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 December 2008 CFITrainer.Net Podcast, brought to you by the International Association of Arson Investigators, covering the latest news in fire investigation. In this episode, we’ll learn more about Christmas tree fires, changes to critical fire investigation publications, how the weak economy may impact the incidence of home fires, new research on the effects of wind on structure fires, and what’s in store at the IAAI’s ATC 2009.
First up is our feature story. The holidays are upon us and it’s almost become a cliché that natural Christmas trees are a fire hazard. Is that popular belief really true? Over 30 million natural Christmas trees are sold every year in the United States, but only about 210 fires that began with Christmas trees, natural AND artificial, are reported each year. So, Christmas tree fires are actually quite rare. In fact, Christmas trees are not a major source of residential fires during the holidays. The National Fire Incident Reporting System or NFIRS statistics show that the leading cause of residential building fires in December is cooking; followed by heating fires, open flame fires, and incendiary fires.
Research has shown that dry fir trees provide a large surface area of open flame contact, and they ignite easily, they also contain resin that fuels quick-burning fires. However, "green" Christmas trees are very difficult to burn. In the Scotch Pine Christmas tree tests, National Institute of Standards and Technology or NIST could not ignite a freshly cut, properly cared-for tree using a match or electric match. When a propane torch was applied to the green tree, the branches ignited briefly, but self-extinguished when the torch was withdrawn. Clearly, for the Christmas tree to be the first fuel ignited, it must be a dry tree and in contact with a competent source of ignition.
Of equal interest to the fire investigator should be the actual source of ignition for the tree. In 2007, the National Fire Protection Association or NFPA reported data showing that electrical problems were the factor in nearly half of the fires where a Christmas tree was the first material ignited. In 27% of Christmas tree fires, a heat source too close to the tree was the source of ignition. Candles were the source in 15%. It is important that investigators determine this source of ignition, as well as whether the tree was significantly dry to be a competent first material ignited. Both of these findings should be part of the investigative report and supported by the data collected and the relevant scientific research.
To watch some eye-opening videos of NIST’s Christmas tree tests, visit www.fire.nist.gov/tree_fire.htm that’s www.fire.nist.gov/tree_fire.htm.
Now, on to some quick news briefs.
In the past year, NFPA released new editions of both NFPA 921: The Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations and NFPA 1033: The Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigators. These two seminal publications are widely considered crucial for the fire investigator to thoroughly understand. Some sections of 921 have been significantly rewritten, including:
In addition, a new chapter on Marine Fire Investigations was added. Changes made in the 2009 Edition of 1033 have increased the minimum knowledge requirements for fire investigators. For more information on these publications, visit nfpa.org..
The economic downturn is affecting many industries and fire investigation is no exception. In the Fall of 2008 survey conducted by the American Red Cross and the National Fire Protection Association, 79% of Americans said they were concerned about the rising cost of heating their homes. Nearly half said that, to save money, they would use alternative heating sources this winter, including portable space heaters, stoves, ovens and fireplaces. Young adults aged 18-24 were particularly at risk, with 17% saying they will use the oven to keep warm this winter. And, alarmingly, one-third of people with fireplaces reported they never cleaned or inspected their chimneys and 23% of respondents did not consider it essential to make sure someone is home when food is cooking on the stove. The use of alternative heating sources and unsafe practices may lead to an increase in accidental heating-related fires this winter. All fire investigators should be aware of this reality and consider these potential fire causes when working on residential fire scenes.
NIST, The New York City Fire Department, and NYU’s Polytechnic University are in the final stages of completing a series of experiments examining the effects of wind on structure fires. Earlier this year, the partners conducted a series of tests on Governor Island in Manhattan to shed light on firefighting tactics that mitigate wind effects. Both wind characteristics and wind-mitigation firefighting tactics may affect the fire flow and observable patterns in the post-fire investigation. One key finding, shows wind speeds as low as 10-15 miles per hour can whip a “routine" room and contents fire into a floor to ceiling fire storm. The full report will be released very soon and Daniel Madrzykowski of NIST is scheduled to present the findings at IAAI’s Annual Training Conference in May of 2009. Visit fire.gov for more information on the research.
That brings us to our final segment for this podcast: a preview of IAAI’s Annual Training Conference 2009. ATC 2009 will be held from May 17th through the 22nd in Arlington, Texas. Presenters include Dr. John DeHaan, Dr. David Icove, Dr. David Howitt, and criminal investigation experts from the Texas Rangers. Seminar topics include postflashover fires, spontaneous ignition, the scientific method, advanced crime scene documentation, spoliation, and explosions. Special offerings include a full day course on electricity and fire, a week-long 921-based Fundamentals Course and a live Q&A with a serial arsonist. For more information and a conference preview, visit firearson.com.
That’s all for this month’s IAAI podcast. Have a safe and relaxing holiday season and we’ll see you in 2009.
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.
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 teaches first responders, including fire, police and EMS, how to make critical observations.
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 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.
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.
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.
This module provides introductory information on the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard – 29 CFR 1910.120.
The program examines the importance of assessing the impact of ventilation on a fire.
This module demonstrates the investigative potential of information stored on electronic devices.
This module explains the relationship between NFPA 1033 and NFPA 921
The basics of the scientific method are deceptively simple: observe, hypothesize, test, and conclude.
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.