The IAAI and CFITrainer.Net present these podcasts with a focus on issues relating to fire investigation. With expertise from around the world, the International Association of Arson Investigators produces these podcasts to bring more information and electronic media to fire investigators looking for training, education and general information about fire investigation. Topics include recent technologies, issues in the news, training opportunities, changes in laws and standards and any other topic that might be of interest to a fire investigator or industry professional affected by fire. Information is presented using a combination of original stories and interviews with scientists, leaders in fire investigation from the fire service and the law enforcement community.
Welcome to the IAAI’s April 2012 CFITrainer.Net. Today, we’ll be interviewing Chief Ernest Mitchell, Jr., the US Fire Administrator, and also giving you an update on the upcoming ATC, or Annual Training Conference, from the IAAI about to happen in Dover, Delaware. Let’s get on to the interviewer with Chief Ernest Mitchell, Jr., the US Fire Administrator. Prior to joining the USFA, Chief Mitchell retired as the Fire Chief and Assistant Director of Disaster Emergency Services for the City of Pasadena, California Fire Department after 33 years in the fire service. He’s an executive board member of the International Fire Service Training Association and an active member and Past President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. Chief Mitchell, welcome to the podcast.
CHIEF MITCHELL: Well, thank you.
ROD: So, what are the major issues facing the fire service today?
CHIEF MITCHELL: You know, there are many issues facing the fire service today, and I’ve had an opportunity to know many fire chiefs and talk with them around the country, so I do recognize there’s this variety of priorities and demands on fire and emergency medical services in their local communities, but the major issues that seem to be most prevalent are, of course, related to economics and the budgets today, and that would be typically resources or a lack thereof that is also further complicated by the changing expectations and demands of communities, and most departments are facing service reductions and they’re going through ongoing difficulties and maintaining a high quality of service delivery. Those things, maintaining service levels, staying abreast of the changes that technology creates, that may create new fire problems. We’re also seeing increased fire losses as a result of expanded home building and wild and urban interfaces.
As we’ve seen before during down economic times, there is that challenge to reduce training and fire prevention efforts when we evaluate service delivery cuts. We know also that there are changes and challenges on the horizon such as being prepared for the impact of the aging baby boomers on EMS and potentially fires as their capabilities diminish and living arrangements change based on their elderly status. So, there just are so many things facing us today that we much focus on.
ROD: Yeah, and I can appreciate that, and I know this is a tough audience that’s got a lot of demands on it, and I appreciate you qualifying at the beginning - you know, I make it sound so easy - what are the major issues facing the fire services, it’s a pretty big question.
CHIEF MITCHELL: You know what? I just hate to leave someone’s out. I know there are others.
ROD: So, in light of the issues that are out there, can you share with the podcast audience your focus and goals for the US Fire Administration today?
CHIEF MITCHELL: We focus on the USFA mission and FEMA’s mission. We have what we traditionally refer to as the four stars of the US Fire Administration and they keep us in alignment with that mission. The stars are supported by our five primary goals, and they are to reduce - reduce risk at the local level through prevention and mitigation, to improve local planning and preparedness, to improve the fire and emergency services capability for response to and recovery from all hazards, to improve the fire and emergency services professional status and to lead the nation’s fire and emergency services by establishing and sustaining the US Fire Administration as a dynamic organization, and then those goals, those five primary goals are met through multiple objectives and activities that are contained in the strategic plan.
What I have asked that we do here though at USFA is to focus on evaluating civilian fire deaths and injuries, to dig deeply into the data and analyze it to see if there’s a way we can increase our effectiveness and reducing those losses by focusing on certain conditions that we might find or groups or locations or any other factors, and I’ve looked at that death rate, civilian death rate, and we need to see what we can do to further move the bar and reduce those deaths and injuries. So, that’s one of the primary focuses that I’ve brought in and also to emphasize the importance of continuing our focus on reducing preventable firefighter line of duty deaths. It’s actually exciting and encouraging that we’ve done better in the past three years. We absolutely must not let up, and I believe it’s incumbent on the leadership in the fire service to continue emphasizing safety. Then we must address the largest cause of firefighter death, line of duty deaths, and those are heart and respiratory events and casualties, and that’s going to take a lot of leadership support, but also individual responsibility on the part of the members in the fire service.
ROD: Big goals and a lot of objectives, and wow, a big job and a lot of - big shoes to fill there. So, in your past duties you were involved in fire investigation, and most of our audience is focused in the fire investigation area. We’ve got probably over 40,000 some folks now. We’ve got about 46,000 registered users. I’m wondering how your experience in the background, you know, being a fire investigator changes or informs your vision for the USFA.
CHIEF MITCHELL: I believe that my experience as an investigator helped me by giving me a well-rounded perspective on the importance of balance in our fire service operations and in all of our planning and in our service delivery, and it’s important for a fire department to fulfill all of the functions needed by the community it serves, and that means more than fire and more than EMS. So, I’d say in arson also I gained an increased appreciation for the value of specialized training, the application of science and technology and gathering data and evidence. It was very important to participate in a network of people with similar responsibilities and needs and to stay current, and so overall I think that experience has contributed to me keeping an open mind and being solution oriented and stressing the importance of working with others as partners.
ROD: So, some of this sounds common sense, but I often find that people lack to talk about the tie between fire investigation and fire prevention and you spoke about, you know, we want to make it safer out there for our communities, we want to reduce the number of firefighter fatalities. How do you think fire investigation - how would you sum that up as fire investigation’s importance in that role?
CHIEF MITCHELL: I think fire investigation gives us a lot of insight into the causes. You know, it’s our primary means of getting insight into the cause of fires, which then leads to better preventive - prevention methods, procedures, it leads to more accurate data so that we might better develop programs. So I just think it’s an essential and without accurate investigation. We will not have accurate data about fire cause.
ROD: I think it’s well said, and I, again, it seems like common sense when we talk about it in the fire services, but oftentimes I’ll hear people only talk about fire investigation tied to arson and I think you said it well. Thank you. So, local, state and federal budget cuts are hitting the public sector, you mentioned it earlier, and private sector, and fire investigator positions are being eliminated, training budgets are strained. So what role can the USFA play in supporting fire investigators, their jobs, training, especially, as you had mentioned, the forensic science. You know, the work of fire investigators continues to be scrutinized. So what do you think the USFA can do about that?
CHIEF MITCHELL: We do provide a variety, I think about seven courses related to fire investigation, through the National Fire Academy. We have been in partnership with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives since 2007 and jointly funded numerous classes, and we’ve partnered in the development of a forensic evidence collection course with the support of ATF and your organization to focus on the identification and processing of non-traditional arson evidence such as DNA, trace evidence and digital evidence. And so, those things, those various courses and even our online training courses that we have partnered with your organization again to deliver, we will continue to seek ways to make training available that will enhance the skillset of the investigators, and we know that that comes - that training comes at a cost, and so we are just exploring ways to get that done as efficiently as we can.
ROD: I appreciate you saying something about the IAAI and boy, I think everybody really appreciates the support that the USFA has given to the IAAI and CFITrainer.
CHIEF MITCHELL: Well, the IAAI and the ATF and the USFA partnership really is essential to our continued success I believe, and one of the things I’ve been finding in my own experience is that if there’s any plus side to diminishing dollars is that we do seem to seek to work closer and better with others, and many times that yields dividends and I think the course work that we’ve able to do and working with IAAI and ATF has really benefited all three organizations and the fire service overall.
ROD: Yeah, I can tell you that as a person who’s been around and watching it for the past ten years, the partnership’s work together has been phenomenal, and the leadership over at NFA and ATF, so all very grateful. How can the fire investigation side of the fire service better partner with, and you had mentioned it a little bit earlier, with the fire suppression side to meet the needs of communities that we serve - or that you serve.
CHIEF MITCHELL: I was fortunate to go in Fire Prevention Bureau early in my career and then get a different perspective. I think that what I saw was when relationships are built between the operations side, the first responders and the investigators and it just increases those outputs because there’s some trust that develops and there’s a respect for what you do. You know, I would just encourage more interaction, reinforcing the importance of preserving evidence and getting the first responders to call an investigator early into the incident. A lot of that is just that the first responders need to understand their role and the importance of their role in preserving evidence in working with the investigators, and that even though they may not suspect its arson, they really can contribute to a scene preservation that allows to a more accurate determination of cause, and just that cause investigation is also very, very important. So, overall I think that investigation community as a whole needs to reach out to the fire service folks and seek to work with them and get with them, but I think just by developing relationships they’ll get better cooperation.
ROD: I love hearing you talk about the relationships because I’ve seen it happen, and I think sometimes people talk about it but they don’t go, wow, you know what? I should actually get up off my seat and walk over and go to talk to some of these people, whether it’s in law enforcement or fire services before the scene, and it’s happening and you can see it. I think you’re mentioning it.
CHIEF MITCHELL: Oh, absolutely. It’s like you get to know people and you get to know them as people, and there was - there’s that old saying that if you want someone to care about what you do, then you first need to show them you care about what they do. And I think that - and of course that works both ways, but usually we - when we’re doing investigation work, we need their assistance right up front, and so it’s important to develop a relationship.
ROD: Wonderful. Thank you. So, we’ll wrap up now with I think what I would like to be a personal message to the individual fire investigators or those that are out there in the fire investigation community, what can they do as individuals to be part of this effort to improve fire investigation?
CHIEF MITCHELL: Of course, they can continue to develop their own skills and then assess what they can personally do to make a difference where they are working. Get to know those first responders with whom they work, offer them training and essential skills. I know when I first heard from investigators about what they needed us to do. It was kind of a distant thing that I didn’t quite understand. When I did it for a while and then came back out to operations and worked with folks and had the discussion, they received it at a different level and in a different way just because of our relationship, but I think to let them know how valuable their effort is that they can be eyes and ears for the fire investigators and that the more they know and the more they know about our procedures, methods such as things like identifying witnesses, preserving and protecting evidence, properly documenting the scene, then there’s a better chance that fires of both incendiary and accidental origin can be identified, investigated, prosecuted. That could lead to fewer fires, and in these times of financial constraints, I’m reminded of what someone I admired for many years, John Wooden said. He says don’t let what you can’t do get in the way of what you can do. I try to remember that because these are times where we just have to maintain focus, keep striving to do the best that we personally can do, and I do believe that these - the economic side will come back around. I think hard work and continuous effort will be rewarded and I would encourage the investigators to keep that up.
ROD: Well, I really appreciate and I know that our audience appreciates you being with us today Chief Mitchell. So, thanks very much to the Chief of the United States Fire Administration. We really appreciate the support and especially your time to talk to us here at the IAAI on CFITrainer.Net.
All right, guys and gals, you wanted a little bit of an update on the Annual Training Conference coming up for the IAAI. It’s in Dover, Delaware and it’s starting in less than two weeks. You need to go to firearson.com, click on the link and find out about what’s going on. There is close to 120 credit hours of education and training that’s available to you as a fire investigator. If you work real hard, I think you can take about 36 of those hours, and when you get done at the end of the day, you may find yourself networking or rapping with some of the experts that teach the courses or some of the other folks that you know from around the world that have come to join us at the IAAI at the ATC.
One of the things I wanted to make a note, and I heard a couple of people say oh, the drive from Philly is long or it’s an hour to get down there. Well, you know what - I drove it the other day. We were headed down there for a scout because we’re going to be doing some interviews for CFITrainer related to a couple of new modules that are going to be happening. They’re video interviews. We’re also going to be doing some radio style interviews for the podcast coming up with people like you and others, but as we went down there, I was like, wow, this drive is actually pretty nice. It’s like taking a four lane down to the beach and that was the feeling that I got when I did the ride. It was real nice. When I got down there, I was greeted by a hotel that’s got plenty of room and it’s sort of funky. I don’t know how many places you go to where there’s a racetrack for horses surrounded by a racetrack for cars. So, it’s sort of a cool place to take a look at and get to know. There are going to be tours around that track. Jamie Novak’s going to be burning some - I don’t know what he’s burning, but Jamie Novak is going to be actually doing some live burns for people, and I think they’ll be happening out near one of the tracks. There’s going to be a lot going on folks.
There’s also going to be a chapter hospitality event going on down there. A lot of the chapters got together and wrangled some of the folks from New Orleans into making some of their gumbo. I understand in the past this was a big hit. So, for folks that want to get together with a lot of the chapters from around the US and around the globe, you can hang out with some of them and eat some good gumbo from New Orleans.
Investigator of the Year is also going to be announced at the dinner and there will be interviews again with you and other experts from around the world that we’ll be doing here from CFITrainer.Net. So, here’s the bottom line. In about a week and a half, two weeks, I want you to turn off your computers and phones for a while and head down to the ATC in Dover, Delaware. I think what you’ll find out is that there’s a whole lot of business to be done down there, and it’s good to see your folks that are in fire investigation with you.
Just an FYI for some of the things you are doing on the computer. The International Association of Arson Investigators LinkedIn page has gotten quite active. There’s also a Facebook page for the International Association. Check them both out and like them or join them or get involved in one of the many groups or conversations going on there.
One other note that I just wanted to make; we are looking for people to help us with alternative funding for CFITrainer, and here’s the deal. It takes quite a bit of money to generate good content that you folks are used to seeing. So what we’re doing is we’ve got partnerships with a lot of different associations, we’re still looking for grants through the International Association of Arson Investigators, reaching to the USFA and others, but we’re also looking for other ways to sustain the network as you know it. So, if you have ideas or ideas for partnerships, ideas for partnerships with state, local, federal organizations, we’re looking to continue to grow those. If you have ideas for sponsors or people who you think might provide some funding because they’d like some visibility on the network, we’d also like you to reach out, click on the email link somewhere on this page and send us an email and let us know who you think might be a good idea to contact. Or you can just pick up the phone and the call the IAAI office and say hey, you know what, I was listening to the podcast, I know you folks are interested in some people for sponsorship, have you ever thought about contacting and give us a name, give us a company, whoever you might think about. We appreciate that kind of feedback. I mean, you are the people who are involved in fire investigation. We should be listening to what you think. That’s about it for this April podcast. Hoping to see you down in Dover Downs, Dover, Delaware, a place that really embraces the fire industry, in about a week and a half. So for CFITrainer, the International Association of Arson Investigators, I’m Rod Ammon.
This program provides a primer on accreditation, certification, and certificates for fire investigation training.
A fire occurred on the night of Feb. 20, 2003, in The Station nightclub at 211 Cowesett Avenue, West Warwick, Rhode Island.
Arc Mapping, or Arc Fault Circuit Analysis, uses the electrical system to help reconstruct a scene, providing investigators with a means of determining the area of a fire’s origin.
This module introduces basic electrical concepts, including: terminology, atomic theory and electricity, Ohm’s Law, Joule’s Law, AC and DC power.
A fire occurred on the evening of June 18, 2007, in the Sofa Super Store in Charleston, SC that resulted in the deaths of nine fire fighters.
This module looks at the many ways fire investigators enter and grow in the profession through academia, the fire service, law enforcement, insurance, and engineering.
This module will present a description of the IAAI organization.
This module takes a closer look at four of the most commonly-reported accidental fire causes according to "NFPA Fact Sheet.
This program brings three highly experienced fire investigators and an attorney with experience as a prosecutor and civil litigator together for a round table discussion.
One of the legal proceedings that may require the fire investigator to testify is a deposition. Depositions are often related to civil proceedings, but more and more jurisdictions are using them in criminal cases.
Deposing attorneys employ a variety of tactics to learn about the expert witness giving testimony, to try to unsettle that witness to see how he/she handles such pressure, and to probe for weaknesses to exploit.
The program discusses the basics of digital photography for fire investigators as well as software and editing procedures for digital images intended as evidence.
This self-paced program is an introduction to discovery in civil proceedings such as fire loss claims and product defect lawsuits.
This self-paced program is an introduction to discovery in criminal proceedings.
This module covers the foundation of DNA evidence: defining, recognizing, collecting, and testing.
This program provides a practical overview of how to perform the baseline documentation tasks that occur at every scene.
This module will discuss the techniques and strategies for conducting a proper science-based fire scene investigation and effectively presenting an investigator’s findings in court as an expert witness.
This module presents critical electrical safety practices that every fire investigator should implement at every scene, every time.
In this program, we will look at emerging technologies that fire investigators are integrating into their daily investigative work with great success.
This self-paced program examines the fire investigator's ethical duties beyond the fire scene.
As social media has emerged as a powerful force in interpersonal communications, fire investigators are being confronted with new questions...
Should you work for a private lab as a consultant if you are on an Arson Task Force? How about accepting discounts from the local hardware store as a “thanks” for a job well done on a fire they had last year?
This module takes investigators into the forensic laboratory and shows them what happens to the different types of fire scene evidence that are typically submitted for testing.
This module teaches the foundational knowledge of explosion dynamics, which is a necessary precursor to investigating an explosion scene.
This module addresses the foundations of fire chemistry and places it within the context of fire scene investigations.
The program is designed to introduce a new Palm/Pocket PC application called CFI Calculator to users and provide examples of how it can be used by fire investigators in the field.
This module examines these concepts to help all professionals tasked with determining fire origin and cause better understand fire flow dynamics so they can apply that knowledge to both to fire investigation and to fire attack.
This module provides a road map for fire officers to integrate and navigate their fire investigation duty with all their other responsibilities and describes where to obtain specific training in fire investigation.
The evaluation of hazards and the assessment of the relative risks associated with the investigation of fires and explosions are critical factors in the management of any investigation.
This module will describe the most commonly encountered fire protection systems.
This module presents best practices in preparing for and conducting the informational interview with witnesses in the fire investigation case.
This module provides instruction on the fundamentals of residential building construction with an eye toward how building construction affects fire development.
This module provides introductory information on the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard – 29 CFR 1910.120.
This module teaches first responders, including fire, police and EMS, how to make critical observations.
The program examines the importance of assessing the impact of ventilation on a fire.
This program discusses how to access insurance information, understand insurance documents, ask key questions of witnesses, and apply the information learned.
This module offers a basic introduction about how some selected major appliances operate.
This program introduces the fire investigator to the issues related to the collection, handling and use of evidence related to a fire investigation.
This program takes you inside the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) archives of some of the most interesting and instructive test burns and fire model simulations they have ever conducted.
The program provides foundational background on the scope of the youth-set fire problem, the importance of rigorous fire investigation in addressing this problem, and the role of key agencies in the response to a youth-set fire.
This module provides a thorough understanding of the ways an investigation changes when a fire-related death occurs.
This self-paced program will help you understand what to expect at a fire where an LODD has occurred, what your role is, how to interact with others, and how to handle special circumstances at the scene.
This program will introduce the fire investigator to the basic methodologies use to investigate vehicle fires.
This module presents the role natural gas can play in fire ignition, fuel load, and spread; the elements of investigating a fire in a residence where natural gas is present; and the potential role the gas utility or the municipality can play an investigation.
This self-paced program covers fundamental legal aspects of investigating youth-set fires, including the juvenile justice system, legalities of interviews and interrogations, arson statutes, search and seizure, and confidentiality.
This program discusses the latest developments in expert testimony under the Daubert standard, including the MagneTek case recently decided in the United States Circuit Court of Appeals.
This module focuses on how to manage investigations that have “complicating” factors.
This module uses the Motive, Means, and Opportunity case study to demonstrate how responsibility is determined in an arson case.
This program covers the general anatomy of a motor vehicle and a description of typical components of the engine, electrical, ignition, and fuel systems.
This self-paced program is the second part of a two-part basic introduction to motor vehicle systems. This program describes the function and major components of the transmission, exhaust, brake, and accessory systems.
This module educates the investigator about NFPA 1033’s importance, its requirements, and how those requirements impact the fire investigator’s professional development.
This module reviews the major changes included in the documents including the use of color photos in NFPA 921 and additional material that supports the expanded required knowledge list in NFPA 1033 Section 1.3.7.
The program illustrates for the fire investigator, how non-traditional fire scene evidence can be helpful during an investigation.
This module introduces the postflashover topic, describes ventilation-controlled fire flow, illustrates how the damage left by a postflashover can be significantly different than if that fire was extinguished preflashover.
This module demonstrates the investigative potential of information stored on electronic devices.
This module explains the relationship between NFPA 1033 and NFPA 921
This module lays the groundwork for understanding marine fires by covering four basic concepts that the investigator must understand before investigating a marine fire.
In this module, you will learn more about how cancer develops, what occupational exposure risks to carcinogens exist at fire scenes, and how to better protect yourself against those exposures.
The use of the process of elimination in the determination of a fire cause is a topic that has generated significant discussion and controversy in the fire investigation profession.
This module teaches the basics of the electrical power generation, distribution, and transmission system.
This module presents the basics of natural gas and its uses and system components in a residence.
The basics of the scientific method are deceptively simple: observe, hypothesize, test, and conclude.
This module explains the principles of search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, as contained in the amendment and according to subsequent case law, and applies them to typical fire scene scenarios.
This module addresses the foundations of thermometry, including the definition of temperature, the scales used to measure temperature and much more.
This program presents the results of flame experiments conducted with a candle.
This self-paced program explains to non-investigators the role of the fire investigator, what the fire investigator does, how the fire investigator is trained, what qualifications the fire investigator must meet.
This module will untangle the meanings of "undetermined," straighten out how to use the term correctly, talk about how not to use it, and describe how to properly report fires where "undetermined" is the cause or classification.
This module will advise fire investigators on how to approach the fact-finding procedures necessary and validate a hypothesis.
This module provides an overview on how structures can become vacant and eventually abandoned.
This self-paced program provides a basic framework for structuring the management of fire cases and fire investigators.
This module illustrates how wildland fires spread, explains how to interpret burn patterns unique to these types of fires.
This module presents the key elements of the initial origin and cause report and methods of clearly presenting findings in a professional manner.