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 CFITrainer.Net Podcast. This podcast features wildland fires and news stories on safe fire cigarettes and research into the fire risk of lithium ion batteries used in electric vehicles. Let’s get started.
So in June and July, the Wallow Fire became the largest wildland fire in Arizona history. The Wallow Fire burned for two months and consumed 538,049 acres at an estimated cost of $109 million. This type of spectacular destructive fire makes news headlines, but every year there are approximately 70,000-80,000 wildland fires in the United States. Most of these fires are small and many are investigated by a local fire investigator. In most instances, the fire investigator is accustomed to seeing structure fires, which behave differently and typically have different causes than wildland fires. With us today to shed some light on the details of investigating wildland fires is a wildland fire expert and a past president of the IAAI, Tom Fee. Tom, welcome to the podcast.
TOM FEE: Thanks for having me.
Q: To start off, why is it important that wildland fires be investigated?
TOM FEE: Well, it’s important that all fires be investigated in order to save lives and protect property. It’s also important that the cause of every fire be identified so that fires can be prevented. If we don’t know what caused a fire, we won’t know how to prevent it in the future. There’s another issue here too, and that’s the intentionally caused fire by the arsonist. It’s important that all arson fires be investigated to their full extent and the perpetrators held responsible for their crimes.
Q: So how do wildland fires differ from structure fires?
TOM FEE: Well, even though the basic sciences apply in both wildfires and structure fire investigation, some of the basic principles of fire science and fire dynamics differ in a wildfire. Fire development and spread is influenced by different factors. The main factor are the wildland fuels - the weather, the typography and then, of course, the unconfined burning that occurs in wildfires. There is also the fire weather to be considered. That’s the winds which are created by the fire during the fire. Many wildfire fire patterns are unique to the fuel load and the surroundings. The investigator must be proficient in identifying, recognizing and interpreting each of those patterns in order to competently establish fire origin and cause in any wildland fire situation.
Q: So what are some common causes of wildland fires?
TOM FEE: Well, some of the most common causes of wildfires are lightning, campfires, discarded smoking materials, spontaneous combustion, debris burning, incendiary or arson fires, fires caused by equipment use, fires caused by railroad equipment, adults or children playing with fire, the misuse of fire, campfires and etc., fireworks, electricity, electrical lines, gas drilling, spontaneous heating, sunlight refraction or reflection. The use of firearms and the list goes on.
Q: I think for a lot of investigators they’re probably going, wow, how was that investigated? How do you investigate a wildland fire?
TOM FEE: Well, the first objective of wildfire investigation would be to identify the area of origin. That initial area of origin or investigation can be determined from the first arriving firefighters and/or eyewitnesses. The firefighters and witnesses can usually verify the location and the size of the fire during its early involvement. Airborne personnel can make the same types of observations and sometimes have a valuable different perspective. Satellite or imaging tools can sometimes be helpful. These accounts are going to assist the investigator in narrowing down the search area. Sometimes the investigator can identify a classic V or U shaped pattern and that’s usually commonly found close to the heel or the rare of the fire and becomes an indicator of fire travel direction as well as the area of origin.
Then once the investigator is established that general area of origin, he or she should do a scene assessment. Walk the perimeter of the specific origin at least twice. Once clockwise, once counterclockwise, and you do that before entering into this area of origin. The investigator will then begin to look at the microscale fire indicators and the reading of those indicators will usually bring the investigator down to an even smaller area, sometimes 20 x 20 feet, if you’re lucky even down to 5 x 5 feet. Then contained within that specific origin area will be the precise location where the ignition source came into contact where the material first ignited and sustained combustion occurred.
Physical evidence of the actual ignition source is likely to be located at or within close proximity to that point of origin. Oftentimes, that’s located through the process of gritting or conducting lane searches within that area of fire origin. That kind of sums up how the overall process brings you right down to your final opinion as to what caused this fire.
Q: What have you seen as far as trends and changes and sort of the state of the state? What’s going on out west?
TOM FEE: Well, I don’t know that it’s just out west. I think it’s all over the United States, but there are more and more resources becoming available because of the large number of wildfires that have occurred over the past ten years. Local fire investigators are using mutual aid from surrounding departments, they’re calling in their buddies to help in these investigations. They’re also calling upon the county agencies within their states to assist them. They’re using the state forestry departments within their states, and oftentimes even calling upon the U.S. Forest Service for assistance. In addition to that, the personnel and scientific laboratories of ATF and FBI assist when requested, and in some cases, recently I noted in Texas even FEMA is giving assistance with their national response team.
Q: So if I’m a young person going into the fire investigation field, a lot of opportunity to get involved in wildfires, is it something where I could focus?
TOM FEE: I believe so. There’s not a lot of people out there that specialize in wildland fire investigation, so I think there is an opening there for people who are interested, especially if they’ve had some background in fighting wildfires because you learn an awful lot about - of the fire dynamics by being on a suppression crew and being out there on the front line and actually being able to see what the fire does, what effects the typography have and the weather has and the wind has, very important.
Q: Thanks, Tom, for being with us today.
TOM FEE: You’re welcome, thank you.
For investigators who are interested in further training on this topic, CFITrainer.Net offers a full module on the investigation of Wildland Fires.
Now, let’s turn our attention to fire-related items in the news.
NFPA 1033, Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigators, establishes clear and concise job performance requirements for fire investigators and describes the specific knowledge and skills needed to meet these requirements. These job performance requirements are applicable to both the public and private sector fire investigators. NFPA 1033 has entered the revision cycle and is now open for proposals to revise any portion of the document. Any interested party may submit a proposal, and fire investigators are encouraged to participate in revising the document that sets the qualification standard for their profession. Proposals will be accepted until November 25, 2011. Each proposal will be individually and specifically addressed by the committee during committee meetings to be held in early 2012. The committee’s actions will then be published in the Report on Proposals, which is scheduled to be issued in the Spring of 2012. This podcast page includes links to information about the code development process, the NFPA Technical Committee Document Proposal Form that must be used to submit a proposal for the revision, and the calendar for the full revision cycle that culminates in the publication of the next NFPA 1033 edition in 2014.
As of July 2011, all 50 states have passed laws requiring that cigarettes to be self-extinguishing. Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts has compiled a Fire-Safe Cigarette Research Guide based on the archive of Massachusetts Congressman Joe Moakley, who is a longtime advocate of mandating the production of self-extinguishing cigarettes. The Fire-Safe Cigarette Research Guide includes the legislative history of the self-extinguishing cigarette issue, oral histories, research studies, journal articles, and website links.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has begun an $8.75 million study of whether lithium ion batteries in electric vehicles pose a potential fire hazard when they are being charged and/or when the vehicle is in an accident. Although no fires linked to the batteries have occurred in these situations, lithium ion batteries in other devices have been recalled for fire risk. Currently, most gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles use nickel metal hydride batteries. However, within 10 years, this will change significantly; it is projected that 70% of gasoline hybrids and all plug-in vehicles will use lithium ion batteries by the end of the next decade. The research will continue through 2014.
So this month, in IAAI news, if you’re interested in becoming an instructor in the fire investigation field or looking to strengthen your instructor resume, in early September 2011, the International Association of Arson investigators will be launching its new IAAI-Certified Instructor Program. This program and its requirements are based on the NFPA 1041, Standard for Fire Service Instructor Professional Qualifications, 2007 edition. For information regarding the IAAI Certified Instructor program, including specific program requirements and application protocols, go to the IAAI website (www.firearson.com) under the Professional Credentialing tab.
That concludes this IAAI CFITrainer.Net podcast. Don’t forget to check out the links on this podcast page for more information on this month’s stories. We’ll see you again next month.
Wildland Fire Investigation Statistics
CFITrainer.Net Module: Wildland Fires Investigation
NFPA Codes and Standards Development Process
NFPA Document Proposal Form
NFPA 1033 Revision Cycle Full Calendar (NFPA 1033 is on the Annual 2013 revision cycle; the final revised document will be published in 2014)
Fire-Safe Cigarette Research Guide
Announcement of NHTSA Lithium-Ion Battery Research
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.