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.
<p>Welcome to the CFITrainer.Net podcast. Today we’re going to focus on the rise of the hybrid vehicle and what its unique engineering means for the investigation of vehicle fires. Then we’ll focus on a story that’s been dominating the news in the northeast, the rash of devastating arson fires in Coatesville, Pennsylvania from December 2008 to February 2009. Then we’ll wrap up with the latest news from IAAI. </p>
<p>Going green has become a major trend in the United States. Making earth friendly purchasing and consumption choices is increasingly on the mind of consumers. Rising gas prices in 2008 severely pinched many Americans and made all of us think about whether our next car should be a hybrid. Hybrid vehicles are engineered differently than traditional internal combustion engine only cars, and accordingly, have different sources of possible fire ignition and pathways for fire spread. Hybrid vehicles combine an electric motor with an internal combustion engine. The vehicle can be powered by a number of sources, including a rechargeable energy storage system, gasoline or diesel fuel, hydrogen or liquefied natural gas.</p>
<p>For this story, we’re focusing on consumer hybrid electric petroleum vehicles. These vehicles commonly use an internal combustion engine and electric batteries to power electric motors. There are many types of drive trains that deliver this power, and the investigator should be aware of how the vehicle being investigated was engineered. In 2007, R.L. Polk & Company reported over 350,000 new hybrid vehicle registrations nationwide, a 38% increase over 2006. J.D. Power & Associates forecast that hybrids will account for 7% of the car market in 2015. Therefore, it’s increasingly likely that fire investigators will encounter vehicle fires involving hybrids. </p>
<p>To learn more about consumer hybrids and how they may affect investigations, let’s turn to Dr. R. Rhoads Stephenson, known by many of his friends, associates and peers as Rhoady. Rhoady, thanks for joining us today. Welcome, and let’s begin with a little bit about your background and then we’ll move to how consumer hybrid vehicles work.</p>
<p>R. RHOADS STEPHENSON: Oh goodness, okay. Well I spent 36 years at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and did all kinds of things there, and I headed up the technology program towards the end of my career. During the middle of that time, I spent three years at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as head of R&D. That was about 30 years ago, but that’s what got me in the car business. Back in the 70s I did a study for Ford looking at all the alternative power plants, all the different kinds of combustion engines like gas turbines and sterling engines and diesels and steam engines, but we also looked at hybrids and hydrogen cars and things like that back in the 70s and put out a report that I think is still pretty useful and pretty accurate. More recently, since I retired from JPL, I’ve been working with an organization called the Motor Vehicle Fire Research Institute, and we conducted about $4 million worth of research on automobile fires.</p>
<p>Okay, well, there are a variety of different kinds of hybrids. As you probably know, they’ve been around for about ten years. The first one was the Honda Insight in about 1997 and then the Prius came out around 1998. So they’ve been on the market a little over ten years. And even though they’ve been remarkably successful and popular and have had very few technical problems, these vehicles still only constitute about 2% of the new vehicle sales. </p>
<p>Now how they work. There probably aren’t two hybrids on the road that are exactly the same. They have a wide variety of parameters. The thing that they have in common is they have an energy storage device onboard, which allows the vehicle to be more fuel efficient. That is done by being able to provide additional power to accelerate the vehicle and to capture some of the breaking energy and put it back into this energy storage device. Almost always that energy storage device is a battery, and the size of the battery can vary widely. On the small end some of the hybrids merely have the capability of shutting off the engine when you stop at a stop light for a long period of time and then turn it on very rapidly when you step on the accelerator. So it’s seamless.</p>
<p>The next step up has a somewhat larger battery that can help with an acceleration run when you step on the gas, and it can also capture some of the breaking energy and put it back in the battery. That will get a bigger fuel economy improvement. And then as the batteries get even larger, you can do more and more work with the battery and less and less work with the internal combustion engine, and the goal of all this is to have the internal combustion engine work in its most efficient region and not have to work when it’s inefficient like idling or at low loads and things like that. So this is one of the strategies that the auto manufacturers are using to increase the fuel economy of vehicles.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: Rhoady, in terms of fire ignition sources, what makes hybrid vehicles different than what an investigator sees in a traditional vehicle?</p>
<p>R. RHOADS STEPHENSON: Okay, well all of the ignition sources of conventional vehicles are still there because we still have an internal combustion engine and gasoline onboard. Then in addition to that, we’re going to have high voltage electricity. So there might be some failure modes where you could have a short that would cause arcing and be a…ignition source. Although these systems are quite sophisticated and they have computer controls and they have double pole contactors on the cables to disconnect the battery in case of a short or other malfunction, but theoretically there could be issues where you’d have a high voltage short. Then, as I say, sometimes the battery itself, if it’s abused or overheated or attacked by fire might also be a source of fire. Some of the battery materials are flammable and maybe even some of the materials of the case of the battery could be flammable. So there are some additional ignition sources and there’s some additional materials that might be the first material ignited.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: Have you seen fire causes that are typically seen in hybrid vehicles?</p>
<p>R. RHOADS STEPHENSON: Well I personally am not aware of any fires in hybrid vehicles. I haven’t been looking for them either. So I assume there have been some, but I’m not aware of any. I mean, there’s two ways of looking at the fire as well. One is where the high voltage or the battery could be a new ignition source or even a first material ignited as the cause of the fire. Or the other is what is the response of the battery to a fire elsewhere in the vehicle that maybe starts from the internal combustion engine or anywhere else in the vehicle, but unrelated to the high voltage? So there’s both a cause and there’s a response to fire that could be different in a hybrid vehicle.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: What potential impacts does the design of hybrids have on fire spread and damage patterns? </p>
<p>R. RHOADS STEPHENSON: Well, to first order, I wouldn’t see a big change. I think these batteries tend to be either under the vehicle or behind the back seat or kind of under the trunk or something like that, and they’re kind of out of the way, and of course, if the fire starts in or around the battery then you would see a different fire pattern in a different part of the car where the fire originates. So yes, there could be some differences, but you still have an internal combustion engine on this vehicle and you still have gasoline and you still have all the flammable under hood fluids that a typical gasoline fueled vehicle would have, so it’s probably more likely than not that the fire is going to start more or less the same way as in a conventionally fueled vehicle.</p>
<p>Now there have been some publicity about battery fires, particularly with cell phones and laptop batteries and things like that, and people are going to ever more energetic batteries. Most of the hybrids today have what they call nickel/metal hydride batteries, which are better than lead acid that we’re used to, but the generation after nickel/metal hydride is lithium ion, and there’s a lot of different manufacturers that are developing and soon will be on the road with lithium ion batteries. They have more energy, therefore, they have more potential for having a chemical excursion that could result in heat release and/or fire. People are very conscious of this and they’re doing a lot of work to come up with designs of these batteries that will be safe from a fire point of view.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: Rhoady, what impact does hybrid vehicle design have on investigator safety?</p>
<p>R. RHOADS STEPHENSON: Yeah, that’s a very good issue and worth thinking about. The main issue that the investigator should be aware of is that you’ve got a high energy, high voltage battery pack onboard somewhere. It may have as much as 400 volts and it’s a direct current, and if you touch that you’re dead. So the other thing I would add, now these cars do have automatically controlled contactors which will disconnect the battery from the rest of the vehicle. I should mention that all of the high voltage cabling has orange colored insulation on it. So you never want to cut into or touch anything that’s orange. The battery pack is probably in some sort of a protected compartment, and I would suggest that you not go into that compartment by yourself. You probably ought to have a trained mechanic from the dealership of the automobile you’re dealing with before you start messing around inside that battery pack compartment because one misstep, one screwdriver or wrench that touches the wrong post and you may get a very serious shock and it would be fatal.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: So Rhoady, before we wrap up, where are other places that a fire investigator might look for information about hybrid vehicles and the upcoming issues around vehicles that affect them?</p>
<p>R. RHOADS STEPHENSON: Okay, well I developed a paper with Orrin West, from Ford Motor Company, about a little over, almost three years ago, and it was presented at the International Symposium on Fire Investigation, Science & Technology in June of 2006. The title of the paper is Fire Investigation for Hybrid and Hydrogen Fueled Vehicles. It’s available on our website, the website of the Motor Vehicle Fire Research Institute, which is www.mvfri.org. That’s Motor Vehicle Fire Research Institute, and you can download it there. This was suggested as an input into NFPA921, and I believe in the 2012 edition of NFPA921 there will be additional information on hybrid vehicles.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: Thanks, Rhoady, for the time you spent with us here at CFITrainer.Net. Now, let’s turn our attention to the second story of our podcast, the string of arson fires in Coatesville, Pennsylvania beginning in early 2008 and intensifying over the last three months. Sixty-six fires have been set since January 2008, many of them on the back porches of residential homes. In December 2008, the first set of arrests were made, but the fires continued. Then on February 18th and 19th, 2009, two men were arrested separately and charged with some of the fires—19 year old Mark Gilliam and 19 year old Roger Barlow. But the Chester County Arson Task Force in charge of this case has cautioned that the investigation is not over. The monetary and psychological toll of these fires has devastated the small community of Coatesville with a population of 10,000. One fire destroyed 15 row houses, scores of families have been displaced, and countless citizens gripped with fear over whether they would be next.</p>
<p>With us today to talk about how the cooperative effort between the Coatesville Police Department, Chester County District Attorney’s Office, the Pennsylvania State Police, FBI and ATF to solve these arson crimes is John Hegeman from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. John is a special agent with the ATF and the spokesman for the Chester County Arson Task Force. John, thanks for joining us. First, tell us about the origins of the task force. How did it get started?</p>
<p>JOHN HAGEMAN: Well Coatesville, Pennsylvania had experienced an inordinate number of arsons for a community its size. And even after they had a number of arrests, I think it was 14 of them in 2008, the fires still continued to be set. So ATF had contacted the Coatesville Police Department in mid to late January of this year and offered investigative and intelligence related resources. The Pennsylvania State Police contacted ATF and offered their resources and expressed a desire to start a task force. So four of the agencies came together and the FBI joined shortly thereafter, and almost immediately after its creation we had four arsons occur in one evening.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: What’s the management structure of a task force John? How does the information flow? </p>
<p>JOHN HAGEMAN: Well the management structure is that of a unified command. The incident command table within the command post is staffed by a senior official from each of the five agencies. So we had decisions concerning the administration of the task force as well as investigative strategy come from this unified command. This information is shared in a number of ways. Within the command post itself we have twice daily briefings with input from all the disciplines within the room. We also see information flow from bottom up and from top down, and the bottom up is that the investigator findings basically pass through the operations and the intelligence sections within the command post up to the incident commanders, and these incident commanders, with all of that information, steer the investigation in the direction of possible targets or suspects as well as procedures for going about the investigation.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: How are investigative tasks split between the partner agencies? </p>
<p>JOHN HAGEMAN: Well the workload is shared almost equally. Obviously, we’ve got some of the specialty disciplines, the CFI work that is done by the fire marshals from the state police and from the CFIs from ATF. But one of the things we’ve also noticed is that arson is actually investigated differently than some other crimes, and so some of the more experienced arson investigators that are part of this task force have shared the different, not just experiences, but also investigative techniques they’ve had with some of the other say agents from ATF or detectives from all the other agencies who may be more familiar with drug work than they are with arson work. So this cooperative effort has really helped as far as even splitting the tasks.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: What role has the community played in this task force work John?</p>
<p>JOHN HAGEMAN: One of the ways we actually looked at this is that it’s not just every resident that suffered a fire was a victim, really the entire city of Coatesville had been a victim because of the fear they had been living through. So as a result of that we really tried to encourage them to come forward with any type of suspicious activity to the task force or to police. We were always asking them to remove any kind of furniture or trash or any other type of materials from their porches because that’s where a lot of the fires were starting. And also motion sensors were distributed in town and assistance was given to them with installation and operation and that kind of thing. So the community, we were really trying to bring them in to help themselves, help us help them as well.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: What factors have enabled the task force to make arrests? </p>
<p>JOHN HAGEMAN: Well we have a case management database established, which is very good for charting the progress of all the leads. We note those that still are in need of completion, it’s good for review of what’s already been done for anybody who needs catch up as well as perhaps we may have missed something that’s gone unnoticed. A lot of the evidence collection being done by the CFIs at the scene is always crucial to these type of investigations. The communication tree that’s been established by phone and by text to keep people alert or notified of some of the most pertinent updates in the case as well as obviously the fires that are occurring. And in the incident command structure, this unified command, in that all agencies really have a stake in this, they’re all involved in the decision making, so there’s pride as well as expertise being shared. </p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: What can other communities learn from how this task force has operated?</p>
<p>JOHN HAGEMAN: One of the things that we’ve also done here was come up with a communication plan from the outset. We have used a single spokesperson for this, but that necessarily doesn’t have to be done, but it’s been the way that the information has been gathered and released. The communications people within Chester County have been excellent in that there is nobody making a release of information in that county from volunteer fire company, to paid/volunteer companies, to police departments. If it’s got anything to do with possibility of arsons related to this, all that information comes immediately to the coordinator of information release. We’ll decide whether that should go out or not, and then, we said we only went with one spokesman, but truly this task force has spoken with just one voice, which is so important that there was never any misinformation being released. We were able to take care of all of, any inconsistencies in the media that way, and the public was served better this way by getting the information quickly and correctly.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: John, thanks very much for joining us here at CFITrainer.Net on our podcast, and as you are very well aware, we really appreciate the work you do. </p>
<p>And in a recent update to our story here on CFITrainer.Net, this past week another arrest was made in Coatesville by the task force. Thirty-seven year old firefighter, Robert Tracey, was arrested for lighting two recent fires. Tracey was named Firefighter of the Year in 2004. </p>
<p>We’ll end our podcast today with news from IAAI. If you’re a member of the International Association of Arson Investigators, you will have the opportunity to vote in the election of a new Second Vice President and members of the Board of Directors. The voting will begin on Friday, April 17th, and runs through Tuesday, May 19th at noon. Go to the firearson.com website, members only section, to vote. That’s firearson.com, members only section, to vote. A number of IAAI chapters are holding their annual training events. For locations and information, go to the IAAI training calendar also on <a href="http://www.firearson.com" target="_blank">www.firearson.com</a>. </p>
<p>That’s all for this CFITrainer.Net podcast. We’ll see you next month.</p>
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.
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.