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.
Rod Ammon: Welcome to the CFITrainer.Net podcast. As everyone is now aware, the news cycle is moving very fast and of course dominated by the Covid-19 global pandemic. Just a quick reminder at the start of our podcast that all fire investigation professionals should conduct scene safety assessments at every scene and select PP according to identified hazards at that scene. Coronavirus transmission precautions should now be part of your scene investigation protocol. Respiratory protection and cleanliness have probably never been more top of mind, so please take care of your own safety as you serve the public interest or fulfill your client's mandate. There's a Covid virus resource dashboard available from the International Association of Fire Chiefs. I checked it out this morning and there's plenty of resources to assist you there. There's also daily updates related to fire departments across the country. Again, that's at www.iafc.org/.
We appreciate the service that all of our responders, healthcare workers and others are providing us with our daily safety and essentials. I saw the FedEx driver in my neighbor's driveway yesterday and said, we appreciate what you guys are doing. He stopped and said, I never really appreciated what people think or how they rely on us sometimes, it feels good. When we have our editorial meetings to decide what to discuss on this podcast. We often look to recent news stories for emerging topics in fire investigation. We had intended to make this podcast one of our news roundups where we amplify a variety of stories that may be of interest to fire investigation professionals. This month while researching stories, one topic caught our eye amidst all the Corona news. Fires at sober living facilities. It feels both timely and a bit late since the opioid crisis and the resulting proliferation of addiction treatment resources has been an ongoing issue for two decades and intensified in the last five years.
Sober living houses trace their roots back to the 1930s, so it's not that it's a new idea, but the growing popularity of sober living run by addiction recovery peers, the presence of these homes in otherwise single or multifamily residential communities, the uneven nature of licensing and regulation and informal sober living arrangements between friends in recovery is creating fire protection, firefighting and fire investigation issues that we thought merited some specific attention. So here we are.
Some quick Googling turns up a variety of fire incidents in sober living facilities. Here are a few examples. A member of a sober living house in Northern California who had recently moved out was arrested for reckless arson for causing a fire at the home. The home was left uninhabitable. Sober living homes in South Portland, Maine, Patterson, New Jersey, and Lansing, Michigan had been damaged by electrical fires, all displacing residents. Three female residents of a sober living home in Nashville died in a massive fire in 2018. The fire remains under investigation.
The fire department says no working smoke alarms were in the home. There are a lot of issues raised here, including regulation by States and municipalities, code application and enforcement, unregistered and unlicensed or informal facilities, fire safety and nonstandard occupancies of single family residences. Then if a fire incident occurs, there will be unique fire investigation challenges like interviewing persons who may not have permanent contact information, possible electrical system over burdens or jury rigging, a potentially transient population, increasing the witness list, lack of inspection records, if the sober living house was not registered or did not have to be registered and the possibility of having to investigate multiple potential fire causes arising from an occupancy of adults in dormitory style bedrooms with shared common areas such as cooking or heating equipment in rooms and smoking in multiple bedrooms or rooms like basements and closets illegally converted into bedrooms.
Here to talk with us about some of the issues with fires in sober living homes, is Fire Marshal Peter Lennon an IAAI member and fire marshal from Manchester, New Hampshire, where Chief Dan Gounan has been working on this issue. Thanks for being with us today.
Peter Lennon: Thanks for having me.
Rod Ammon: I appreciate it. Peter, how are you and your people doing with this Covid thing?
Peter Lennon: We're doing good. We're still ramping up here in the city, but we're doing good. So far we're running a lot of testing sites and just maintaining what we have.
Rod Ammon: Well wanted to make sure we checked in on that and we're glad to hear that for you. I know a lot of cities, it's just about the timing and preparedness and we appreciate you taking the time to talk to us today.
Peter Lennon: No problem.
Rod Ammon: So let's start out when we're talking about these sober living arrangements, just to get an idea of what's out there. From what I understand that facilities range from hundreds of residents to small groups. What are you seeing out there?
Peter Lennon: The biggest thing we're seeing is we're seeing these sober living places that are popping up in more of a residential setting that we don't anticipate them being at. So meaning that we're coming up to an apartment building that usually has like three apartment buildings in it and they've illegally converted the apartment or the apartment building into essentially one dwelling unit with anywhere from 20 to 30 people inside the building at one time.
Rod Ammon: And what was the capacity at the time?
Peter Lennon: Usually, most of the apartment buildings only probably have like a small family of four or five people in at the max, but we're actually seeing these apartments that have seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven people in it. It's very common for these places to just put lots of people into a residential space.
Rod Ammon: Wow. I'm glad I clarified that because when I said at the time I wasn't too clear, what I meant was, what's the typical standard appropriate occupancy and what you're saying is it's going from two, three, four people, which would be normal, what these places are developed for up to 10 or more.
Peter Lennon: Correct. We're seeing some apartments that actually have over 10 people in them. Basically any place they have a room that they're putting beds down and having people stay in there.
Rod Ammon: So I'm sure that a lot of people who listen to us already know what some of those issues, what that would lead to. Why don't you talk a little bit about the regulatory fire protection and code enforcement issues?
Peter Lennon: Yeah, so the code part of it that we're running into is basically they're just popping up. They're not letting the city know they're there, they're not going through any of the permitting process. And they're basically just out there and looking for us to kind of find them. The big thing we're really running into is no code really will define the definition of family. There's some definitions out there, but that's our biggest hurdle right now is that they're calling themselves a family. And so sober living really doesn't fit, in New Hampshire we enforce the life safety codes from NFPA. Sober living really doesn't fit in the categories, so we're using the dormitory rooming lodging chapter, which actually requires sprinklers and fire alarm systems because it's a new occupancy. And that's the big stumbling block is these occupancies don't want to spend the money to put those life safety features in to make the building safe and code compliant.
Peter Lennon: So we've been working with the state trying to get either variances for these properties or maybe come up with a additional classification of sober living. But essentially the risk with that is we're essentially lessening the safety requirements. So that's a big thing that's going on right now with us as far as the code part of it.
Rod Ammon: As I can imagine, this is a state by state issue.
Peter Lennon: Yeah. Unfortunately, there's a lot of big companies that run these places and they have a lot of money and they're fighting us all along the way with any enforcement that we try to do. And it's getting tied up in the courts.
Rod Ammon: As I've heard, or I've read, I should say from Chief Gounan's comments, it's not that you want to shut these people down, you just want to make sure they're safe.
Peter Lennon: Absolutely. And we want to make sure that they're safe. We want to make sure we know where they're out there. A typical response for us for a residential unit is only an engine in a lot of company versus if we know there's going to be multiple people in there, we'll increase the response. Just to be safe, time is very important. Trying to get the people out of the building. So that's one of our big stumbling blocks is just knowing they're out there and just adjusting appropriately for us as far as responses.
Rod Ammon: So what I've heard is, you've got a couple ideas out there that looked pretty unique from what we read. Could you talk about that? Because again, my understanding was you were looking for cooperation, not to put people in need out of a place.
Peter Lennon: Oh, absolutely. I mean we are pretty much ground zero for the opioid crisis and we understand the recovery part of it is very important, and we're not trying to close these places down, but we want to make sure that they're safe. Everybody should be in a safe building, especially people in recovery. So we're working on compartmentation fire alarm systems. Some not really alternatives but some other measures that we can at least get in there at least to make the building safe. But we are not at all looking to close these places down. But with that said, there are some good ones. There are some bad ones and we do have some enforcement stuff against some of the bad ones that we have to move forward on.
Rod Ammon: Sure. As with any business. So what are the challenges, you spoke a little bit about apartments and I'm sorry if I missed you speaking about single family homes, because I'm thinking a little bit here. What are the specific challenges in single family homes? What are you seeing in terms of occupancy, usage, utilities, that kind of thing? Housekeeping?
Peter Lennon: It's the same thing. We're getting complaint calls from neighborhoods that single family home, house went on the market, somebody buys it up, pays cash, and next you know that there's people outside all hours of the day and there's multiple tenants there that usually is not indicative of a single family setting. So the single family are usually the ones that get reported to us quicker than an apartment building. Because usually apartment buildings, the people are kind of always out and about and stuff, but it's not fitting some of these neighborhoods and that's what's drawing our attention to it, not just the code part of it.
Rod Ammon: So how about advice for other people who aren't at ground zero that are maybe seeing a little bit of this? My understanding is you have quite a few of these places that have sprung up. Any advice that you could share to others around the country?
Peter Lennon: The big thing I would do is just get to know everybody in your community as far as the other departments, whether the police are noticing calls for service, complaints to the health department, you really need to work together with all the other agencies within your jurisdiction. They may have information that something's going on, but that's key is being able to share information with other resources that are in your community. Get out there and see what's going on. It's pretty easy to find these places if you start doing Google searches, you can find pretty much any of these places, especially addresses. And a lot of these places have Facebook, there's a lot of Facebook stuff out there for recovery places. You can find a lot of the information. Another good resources, probation and parole for us, they're actually putting people in there. So they're a great resource as well. So just reaching out to the stakeholders and see where they're putting these people.
Rod Ammon: As with so many other issues. And again, I keep hearing in the background of a lot of the things that you've said in it and what I read about the chief that you're trying to do the right thing here to make people safe and help them out during some incredible challenges in their lives. When you have to investigate a fire at one of these places, what are some of the unique challenges that you might face?
Peter Lennon: We have had a couple of fires in these places. We probably guesstimate, we have about 60 of them out there. We know of about 40 of them, but we're being told specifically that some of them are underground purposely just to avoid us. But the incidents we've experienced is, usually everything has been accidental. Smoking is a big part of the recovery process and that's what's been pretty much the driving factor as far as fires relating these places is smoking, careless disposal smoking. We've also had a couple of incidents with people that were placed there that shouldn't have been there, that should have been supervised having small kitchen fires. But everything we've experienced has been accidental in cause.
Rod Ammon: What am I missing?
Peter Lennon: I don't think anything.
Rod Ammon: That's awful nice. Frankly this subject came out of nowhere. We started doing some reading and as I said in the stories previous as I was reading the intro for this, this sort of came up and we hadn't really thought of it and I hadn't even thought about what a sober living home was. And then I thought, well maybe halfway house was the old terminology.
Peter Lennon: Halfway houses are more for your people that are coming out of your prisons and stuff like that. But they're still, our probation and parole will place people in sober living that is essentially coming out of some type of substance abuse program or drug court or something along those lines. They'll place them in there. Big thing, and there's a big case right now that somebody that probation parole placed actually went missing. They went on a crime spree, so that really brought a lot of this to the forefront as well, as far as these people being in neighborhoods where they're not supposed to be.
Rod Ammon: Okay. Well I'm very grateful for your time. All of us are and that's Fire Marshal Peter Lennon.
Peter Lennon: Thanks for having me. It was great to talk to everybody.
Rod Ammon: Thanks for helping us understand this issue better. We encourage the fire investigation professionals listening to this podcast to educate themselves on the sober living and other group homes in their community and the applicable state and local regulations.
We will close today with some other relevant information from the IAAI. The ITC is canceled this year and the IAAI is surely saddened by this. So many people were looking forward to the gathering in Vegas. This year's ITC was tuning up to be a great conference with excellent content and record attendance was expected. We hope you're doing well during this time of isolation. It looks as though many of you are coming and learning during this time. We've had some of our highest usage analytics recently and we're glad you're here. Please spread the word. We believe this knowledge is motivating and helpful during this time. Updates on training will be posted at the IAAI's website located at www.firearson.com where there'll be information about how this year's mandatory issues related to, that are normally handled at the ITC, will be done virtually.
So things like the election for officers and the AGM will be things that you need to check in to find out how they'll be handled at www.firearson.com. Our thoughts are with all of you and your families as we each do our best during this virus.
This podcast and CFITrainer.Net are made possible by funding from a fire prevention and safety grant from the assistance to firefighters grant program administered by FEMA and the US Department of Homeland Security. Support from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and voluntary online donations from CFITrainer.Net users and podcast listeners.
Thanks for joining us today on the podcast. Stay safe. We'll see you next time. For the IAAI and CFITrainer.Net, I'm Rod Ammon.
Hill, Ryan. Person rescued, another person suspected of arson after Suisun City house fire. CBS Sacramento. 4 Mar 2020.
Owner of sober living home where fire killed 2 defends herself, business. WKRN.com 24 Feb 2018.
Lacy, Eric. 13 men displaced after fire damages Holden House sober living complex. 19 May 2019.
Fire breaks out at South Portland sober living home. 18 Nov 2019. WMTW.
Case, Stacey. 'You failed to protect my child': 2 years after Valentine's Day fire, moms want answers. Fox 17 Nashville 13 Feb 2020.
Alex, Patricia. 'Incredible' support continues for Paterson's Straight & Narrow six months after fire. NorthJersey.com 17 Feb 2020.
Wittman, Friedner D. , Ph.D. and Douglas Polcin, Ed.D. The Evolution of Peer Run Sober Housing as a Recovery Resource for California Communities. Int J Self Help Self Care. 2014; 8(2): 157–187.
Napoliello, Alex. This sober living home promises a safe haven. Residents say they're being exploited. NJ.com 16 Jan 2020.
McElhaney, Lisa. There are up to 60 sober living houses in Manchester, fire chief says. NADDI.org. 12 Jan 2020.
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.
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.
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 program explains the basic principles of how electric and hybrid vehicles are designed and work, including major systems and typical components.
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 provides introductory information on the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard – 29 CFR 1910.120.
This module teaches first responders, including fire, police and EMS, how to make critical observations.
The program examines the importance of assessing the impact of ventilation on a fire.
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 demonstrates the investigative potential of information stored on electronic devices.
This module explains the relationship between NFPA 1033 and NFPA 921
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.
The basics of the scientific method are deceptively simple: observe, hypothesize, test, and conclude.
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.
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.