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 June 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast. This month’s podcast features career advancement. We’ll discuss how fire investigators can think strategically about their careers, how to chart a career path, the role of continuing education and certification in the profession, as well as what options are available after retirement. Our two news stories are also related to career advancement: we’ll hear more about budget cuts impacting fire investigators and the ATF Strategic Plan for 2010-2016.
We begin with the topic of career advancement. Here to talk with us about what all fire investigators should be doing to grow and advance in their profession is Steve Austin.
Q: Why do fire investigators need to think strategically about their careers?
STEVE AUSTIN: Well the whole role of a fire investigator and how they fit into the scheme of things in terms of a career inside the fire service&helip; and any public sector, and even as private fire investigators has really changed over the years, and in order to advance, they need to have sufficient training and a broadening of their skill set, and the way that’s done is, of course, the subject of a lot of work that’s been done by the IAAI in making a consistent and meaningful training opportunity available to a broad group of folks.
Q: So how does an investigator, in your mind, chart a career path or set goals and achieve them?
STEVE AUSTIN: I suspect now that a young person entering into the career of fire investigator would either come into a private sector agency that investigates fires normally either from the insurance industry or a company that provides services to the legal community or an insurance company or perhaps for another governmental entity, and there would be an entry point there for someone that is beginning their career.
On the other side of the house, in the public sector, oftentimes people in law enforcement and in the fire service get on board either as a sworn police officer or federal law enforcement person or a firefighter. Then they find themselves in a position where they can move into fire investigation within the agency for which they now work.
So you actually have this parallel opportunity for people on both sides to come into the field of practice. What I think has been very helpful is that a young person today graduating from a technical school or from a degree granting institution can actually come forward and find an employer who’s willing to hire them and train them to be a fire investigator in the private sector, and as a matter of economics, Rod, public sector jobs now are very difficult to come about. In fact, in the fire service and some law enforcement, there is actual layoffs taking place due to the economy.
So it would be very advantageous for a young person to really consider coming into the private sector, and now there are tools that are available for them for career enhancement and training such as CFITrainer.
Q: So, on this younger person or somebody who is starting fresh into fire investigation, what should I be thinking about as continuing education or certification? How does that play into my career advancement?
STEVE AUSTIN: In almost every area now in the public and private sector, almost all the trades, there is a growing need for certified folks, and so this is something that’s been relatively new in fire investigation, this is something that we have not had where people can actually seek certification to be a certified fire investigator. And it’s a very, very positive step, and again, I don’t want to be too much of a homer here, but the IAAI has really led the way in providing that certification for fire investigators, and in fact, the IAAI is the professional association for all fire investigators, whether they be in the public or private sector.
Q: What are some of the specific ways that a fire investigator can get continuing education?
STEVE AUSTIN: Well continuing education now in fire investigation is much easier to find than it has been in the past, and we can start out with what’s offered locally. Many community colleges now have education training leading a degree or a certificate in various aspects of fire investigation. Certainly there are four-year degree granting institutions that offer accredited college degrees in this area. There are even advanced degrees available in certain educational institutions in this country.
Now in addition to that, there are lots and lots of good training opportunities provided in the police and fire services through various seminars that are offered, again, by the IAAI. The various chapters of the IAAI around the world do some excellent work in having one, two day seminars, weeklong seminars in many, many cutting edge issues in fire investigation.
Q: Are there other opportunities that you see out there? State fire academies that are out there or other places you think we should mention?
STEVE AUSTIN: Well state fire academies and local metro fire academies certainly have picked up the pace on fire investigation training, and many state programs offer certified programs that are either accredited by the ProBoard or IFSAC, the two accreditation bodies in North America. Those courses are great courses, and oftentimes, because they’re provided by state institutions, they are really tailored many times towards state legislation, state codes and they can be very, very helpful. If you’re working in that jurisdiction and they spend a lot of time with you on the arson legislation in your particular jurisdiction it could be very, very helpful to you.
Q: What certifications are available for someone who is developing their career or who is trying to move into being the better fire investigator, the person who is most prepared to go to court or to take an investigation from start to finish through the courtroom?
STEVE AUSTIN: Well Rod, I don’t think you can underestimate the value of a four-year degree from an accredited college or university, and I see that now in terms of who is being hired in the private and the public sector. And while it may be still possible in some locations to be hired into a public sector job or a private sector job without a four-year degree, this is a profession and a four-year degree is really the basis to get you started.
Q: What are some of the specific certifications that somebody can achieve during their career that are going to help them move ahead?
STEVE AUSTIN: Well advanced degree work. I say that because I look at successful CEOs, chiefs of police, fire chiefs and also folks in business, and most, if not all, of those people have taken advanced degree work. Now, those same folks are also looking at becoming certified fire investigators. That is really the ultimate for a fire investigator to have a CFI designation.
Q: What are some of my other options for career after I’ve retired?
STEVE AUSTIN: Well many public sector folks can leave the public sector in 20 to 25 to 30 years and can seek employment with an insurance company or a private cause and origin firm, a consulting firm, in which they can take their skill set that they’ve honed over the many years in the public sector, their contacts, and their just general understanding of the business of fire investigation to a private employer who can benefit from that level of experience.
You know, we’re an entrepreneurial country here, and I really have a lot of admiration for some of these folks who retire and open up - hang up their own shingle and open up their own shop and become small business persons and go out and offer services that are needed in a private sector, and we see a lot of independent cause and origin investigators come out and go to work for themselves.
Q: What are some of the opportunities for me to give back, to assist all these folks that need this better education?
STEVE AUSTIN: Well, again, the IAAI provides a great opportunity for seasoned fire investigators for folks that are at the pinnacle of their career or have recently retired or started to slow down to provide training opportunities as instructors in many, many of these seminars and classes that we’ve talked about.
Q: Steve, thanks for being with us today, and we really appreciate the insight and your contribution.
STEVE AUSTIN: Rod, it’s my pleasure, and I just want to urge everyone to take advantage of that training when it comes available, and it’s so easy now because of CFITrainer.
Now, for some headlines making news in fire investigation. With many U.S. states facing major budget crisis and citizens protesting increased taxes at every level, what are some of the potential effects of belt-tightening on fire investigators and the investigations they conduct? One state, Oklahoma, is about to find out. Budget shortfalls in the State Fire Marshal’s Office have reduced staff by 20% and forced new policies into effect, including up to 72 hours for an agent to respond to a fatality, critical injury and arson investigation requests. There are also significant impacts on building inspections. Local officials are expressing concern about the possible effects of these new realities, including the logistics of securing a scene for up to three days before an investigator arrives, the potential for evidence to be degraded due to the delay, and the possibility that state fire investigators may not respond at all to low priority cases like brush fires and fires with minimal property damage. Regarding low priority cases where the State Fire Marshal’s Office may not respond, Oklahoma Fire Marshal Robert Doke was quoted in The Oklahoman saying, "The sheriff will just have to do a report and mark it as cause accidental or unknown." Usually, a three person team from the Fire Marshal’s office will respond to a fire fatality, but with the budget cuts all three might not be able to respond, says Doke, and “it may be that we have a homicide where we are not able to determine the cause of the fire. I hope that never happens, but I would say it's a strong possibility."
Moving on to our next story, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has released its 2010-2016 Strategic Plan. The plan details ATF’s positioning of strategic assets, development of certain investigative areas, research priorities, and provision of training to law enforcement partners. Strategic Goal 3 covers Explosives, Bombs, and Bombings. Strategic Goal 4 covers Fire and Arson. The fire and arson portion of the document includes strategies for enhancing training programs for the fire service and public safety community and increasing fire and arson research and development. The full Strategic Plan is available on ATF.gov. The direct URL is provided on this podcast’s web page.
ATF Strategic Plan - Fiscal Years 2010-2016 http://www.atf.gov/publications/general/strategic-plan/2010-2016-strategic-plan.html
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.