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 IAAI’s July 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast. This month’s podcast is devoted to a roundtable spotlighting some of the latest research and technical activities that impact fire investigation. Our participants are Daniel Madrzykowski from NIST, Steven Kerber from Underwriters Laboratory and Dr. Fred Mowrer from Cal Poly.
Our roundtable is moderated by Dan Madrzykowski. The roundtable begins now.
DAN: Welcome to the podcast today. This is Daniel Madrzykowski. We’ll start off with some questions for Steve today. Steve, Underwriters Laboratory was founded back in 1894 and they’re well known around the world for their product safety test standards and their certification and evaluation programs. But lately it seems that Underwriters has been conducting quite a bit of research directly related to conditions on the fire ground. Can you tell us a little bit about this change and some of the recent projects?
STEVE: Absolutely. UL is fortunate to have a number of resources that are very good for fire testing and also work out very well for doing projects for the fire service and things of that scale. We were awarded several Department of Homeland Security grants through their research program. Some of them include lightweight construction, looking at the collapse of lightweight construction, a smoke particulate study looking at the hazards of overhaul and also horizontal ventilation, ventilation on the fire ground.
DAN: So you mentioned a study on fire exposure per smoke particulates. How would the findings in that report have any impact on fire investigators?
STEVE: Well there’s several places where I think the fire investigators can benefit from the results. Just a quick overview on the project. It was broken into four areas. The first one was small scale. There we ran 42 different materials that you would commonly find in and around your home through cone calorimeter tests as well as smoke pockets tests to get an idea on the small scale of what hazards are in the home today and what heat release rates are and what smoke production rates are.
The second piece of that grant was to step it up to what we’ll call large scale tests. We burned several living rooms, bedroom, kitchen, an attic, a couple of deck scenarios with pressure treated wood as well as some of the synthetic material wood and a couple of automobiles. And what we were looking at was to drive those rooms to flashover and then to suppress them, and the focus was to examine 30 minutes of overhaul after suppression. So we looked at what was in the smoke, all the different materials, all the different metals, all the different smoke concentrations looking for anything that would cause adverse health effects and taking all kinds of different samples and instrumenting firefighters while they conducted the overhaul.
There’s a couple of conclusions that came out of that, and I think probably one of the most significant ones for the investigation community is that more than 99% of the smoke particles collected during the overhaul were less than 1 micron in diameter. The thing about ultrafine particles is that more than 97% of them are too small to be seen by the naked eye. So areas that you think may be clear of smoke, in fact, are saturated with particles, so clean air isn’t necessarily clean air. The third piece of the project was to step it up from the small scale to the large scale to actual fire events. We trained a team of firefighters, UL sent an engineer to ride along with this team of firefighters, and essentially we chased fires around the south side of the city and we would send trained Chicago Fire Department Firefighters in instrumented to stand next to the firefighters at actual fires and measure the overall gases while they were conducting overhaul, and the engineers from UL and a couple other firefighters would use an open path FTIR device outside of the structure, which we could shoot into the flames and measure what was in the smoke between the measurement device and the flames themselves.
Then the final piece of the project was our partner in the project, which was the University of Cincinnati Medical School. At UL we really don’t have any medical resources to be able to determine what the impact of all of these different particles and gas concentrations would be, but they have experts in this field that have been conducting research here for quite some time, and related to the ultrafine particles that pretty much ultrafine particles have a very high surface to mass ratio. So they can also make it extremely far down into the bloodstream almost directly and they can be deposited very deep into lung tissue and result in direct transfer - toxins in the air, metals, PAHs all carried by the particles and therefore get transferred quickly into the bloodstream causing problems in the cardiovascular system, the nervous system or the liver.
DAN: You also mentioned a test series on the impact of horizontal firefighting ventilation for single family homes. Can you tell us a little bit about that study in some of your findings?
STEVE: Sure. We wanted to look at how fire behaviors changed over time both with fuel loads transitioning from natural materials to synthetic materials as well as houses changing in geometry. All the modern houses being built are sort of transitioning from smaller square footage ranch houses with a lot of compartments, a lot of walls, everything separated by doors to larger two story houses, and in our case it was a 3200 square foot, two story colonial type house with an open floor plan and two story spaces. So there was a two story great room as well as a two story foyer.
So we ran a series of 16 tests. Eight of the tests were in the smaller ranch house - we have a 1200 square foot ranch house in our lab, and right next to that we had a larger two story house. Some of the important things for the fire investigators based on all these tests that we did - and the results will be available on our website soon - fire behaviors change significantly, and if you have a fire bottled up in a living room that’s surrounded by doors that pass into the other rooms, your fire behavior’s going to be much different than it is in a 17 foot ceiling great room that’s open to pretty much every room on the first floor and directly open to all the bedrooms on the second floor. The basis was to examine the fire department operations and look at what they’re traditionally taught on where they’re supposed to vent and when they’re supposed to vent, and that’s going to change the fire growth, that’s going to change the patterns they see afterwards, and I think the outcome of this project, the fire investigator will be able to look at and gain some insight as to what they see every day out on the street.
DAN: So those are some really significant projects. Do you have anything new coming up
STEVE: Well we’ve got two big projects we’re working on right now. One is in partnership with NIST where we’re doing some additional lightweight construction research, and then the newest piece, which we were just awarded from the Department of Homeland Security as well, is firefighter safety as it pertains to photovoltaic solar panels. We’re going to go through a series of tests combining some of our fire expertise and some of our electrical expertise to look at what happens if a firefighter sticks a pipe pole into a solar panel? What happens if he sprays water on it? How well do firefighter gloves protect the firefighter? Or the boots, how do they protect the firefighter? What happens if you cut into a conduit with your power saw on the roof? Or what happens if you start hitting the components with large amounts of water and the panels begin to break? What hazard can that cause? And then what does the fire department do to interact with the photovoltaic panels? What can you do to shut them off? There’s only two things that can turn off solar panels and that’s either covering them with a completely opaque tarp or waiting for dark. So anywhere before the inverter and the panels themselves are going to stay live. That’s also important for fire investigators. You get to the scene later on and you’ve got some solar panels that are damaged by fire and you have to know what to be able to do to work around them safely.
DAN: Fantastic. It sounds like a very valuable resource. Now with that, we will turn our attention over to Fred Mowrer. Fred, thank you for being on the program today. You jumped into this new project, this new job as Director of Fire Protection Programs at Cal Poly. Is this is a brand new program or it’s just getting started? What’s it status?
FRED: Yes, we have just started a new graduate program in fire protection engineering at Cal Poly. The graduate program leads to a Masters of Science degree.
DAN: So why the West Coast? Why California?
FRED: First of all, there’s the two existing graduate programs in fire protection engineering are located at the University of Maryland and at WPI, which is in Massachusetts, and both of those are along the East Coast. Certainly with the growth of the Western United States for the past few decades in particular, there is an increasing need for educational programs in fire protection engineering along the West Coast. I think California’s also a logical choice because of the problems it experiences annually with wild land fires and with fires at the wild land/urban interface. Really, the final and perhaps the most important reason to do this in California right now is that the institution of Cal Poly has shown a distinct interest in this program and Cal Poly is one of the best engineering schools in the country.
DAN: That all makes sense and sounds very exciting. Who is the program open to?
FRED: Generally speaking, the program is open to students who hold a Bachelors of Science degree in one of the engineering disciplines or in a closely related technical field - fields such as physics, chemistry or applied mathematics. Qualified students who may not have the necessary background to get admitted to the Masters of Science program can also enroll in some of our individual courses through what’s known as the open university program at Cal Poly. This is where I think a number of investigators who may not qualify for the whole program may be interested in coming in and taking some of the courses, for instance, in fire modeling or in fire dynamics that are important to their practice in fire investigation. This is a good way for some of these students who may be borderline in terms of whether they can get admitted to the program or not, to actually demonstrate that they’ve got the skills necessary to complete the full program successfully.
DAN: Very, very neat. Given your background in fire investigations, I know that as you have come up, while you were in school and everything, you’ve been involved in some very major fire investigations. How do you see your program relating - or being involved potentially in fire investigations and that kind of thing?
FRED: Well I guess I come at fire investigations from the standpoint of an engineer who’s really trying to look at differences between expected and observed performance of buildings under fire conditions, and that’s really what engineers I think largely bring to the table. To that end, you know, this program, like other fire protection engineering programs, really has two tracts. On one hand the program focuses on the fundamental fire sciences. That includes topics like fire dynamics, flammability of materials, fire modeling, but it also focuses on fire protection systems and applications such as fire detection and alarm systems, fire suppression systems and structural fire protection. So by understanding the context of what is expected within a building and then coupling that with what was the actual performance of a building under fire conditions, I think that these are all valuable tools to help the investigator or the engineer understand how fires start and how they spread in buildings and other structures.
DAN: Given the newness of the program, the fact that it’s just starting this fall, I’m going to ask you to sort of look in your crystal ball a little bit. What do you see on the horizon for the program? Where would you like to see the program go?
FRED: Well certainly with respect to the fire investigation field, I want to see more collaboration. I would like for the fire investigators, particularly on the West Coast, to view this program as a resource and the people within the program as a resource.
DAN: Fred, thank you very much for your time today, and thank you both very much. This is Dan Madrzykowski and thank you.
More information on the research projects mentioned in this podcast is available on this podcast page.
The website for accessing the Fire Service Research results from UL is http://www.ul.com/fireservice
The website for the California Polytechnic State University Program is http://fpe.calpoly.edu
That concludes this IAAI CFITrainer.Net podcast. We’ll see you again next month.
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.