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 May 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast. This month’s podcast is the second in our safety series called "It Could Happen To You." In part two, our roundtable participants discuss some of the health complications they are facing due to long-term exposure to toxic substances at the fire scene, how exposures occur, and what fire investigators can do to protect themselves.
Our Long-Term Exposure roundtable is moderated by Robert Schaal, current President of IAAI, an ATF Senior Special Agent, and the Supervisor of the Arson and Explosives Group in New Orleans. The roundtable discussion begins now.
BOBBY SCHAAL: Hello, this is Bobby Schaal, President of the International Association of Arson Investigators. I’m here for the second in our series of "It Can Happen To You," a safety series discussing some of the hazards of fire investigation. Joining me today is Russ Melton, a partner with the law firm of Meagher & Geer in Minneapolis, Minnesota and David Kircher, a fire investigator with O’Neill & Associates in Somerville, New Jersey.
David, let’s jump to you first. We were recently talking about some of your long term health problems that you had and I think you recently got diagnosed with allergic asthma that’s been attributed to working fire investigations. Why don’t you talk about some of those symptoms and causes that led to that.
DAVID KIRCHER: Yes, Bobby, just to give you a brief background. Speaking with respect to exposures and things like that. Twenty-five years of firefighting, law enforcement as a fire investigator and doing the number and volume of investigations that I’ve done in my career, because I was in a high volume area, the city of Newark, outside the city of New York, and a response 9/11 spent approximately six weeks at Ground Zero following 9/11 and a bunch of other assignments. And the first thing that happened to me was I got diagnosed with malignant melanoma, skin cancer. Being of Irish descent, the sun and I do not get along, and I ended up having surgery and those kind of things for the malignant melanoma. As a part of that routine and follow up treatments, I get a yearly chest x-ray. Well, this year’s chest x-ray showed up a large gray area on my lungs and they thought I had COPD, and I had to go to a pulmonary specialist and do all kinds of testing and capacity and those kinds of things. I’ve been wheezing and persistent cough, those kinds of things that manifested themselves as symptoms coupled with the x-ray, the diagnosis finally, after the all the testing was that it was not, in fact, COPD, but allergic asthma. I asked the doctor, well, where did that come from? And he said, well, you know, what you do for a living. He said that’s just the product of your environment.
BOBBY SCHAAL: So it’s an accumulative effect of working fire scenes, and in the early days, we didn’t know about all the risks so we didn’t use appropriate respiratory protection and what not. So was this triggered by one event or was it just a build up over your entire career?
DAVID KIRCHER: No, he said it was the result of 25 years plus of doing - being in the fire service. You know, first I was a firefighter before I became a fire investigator. So, in a sense, I’ve actually been in the fire service for now 35 years. So, that’s what it was, accumulative effect. You know, back in the day, even as firefighters we went in - there were times we went in with basically no mask, you know, fighting fires and follow up, if you could go in the fire and fight fire with no mask, what made you think you had to have one after the fire was out?
BOBBY SCHAAL: Right. And that’s something that’s kind of misunderstood. The University of Phoenix did a study a while back basically trying to characterize the risks during overhaul when the firefighters generally take off their protective equipment, and they found that there are risks during that overhaul period and they actually implemented requirements to have their firefighters wear respiratory protection during that phase because the risks don’t go away when the fire’s out. They remain even during our fire investigations.
My personal problems with a long term health hazard presented relatively early in my career. In 1996, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. At the time, I was outside of the general risk category. I was a non-smoker, I was under 55-years-old, so it was rather odd, but we kind of just attributed it to an anomaly and moved forward. And later they came back and said, well, it’s probably a direct causal result from working fire investigations because of some of the known hazards, the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other volatile organic compounds. On fire scenes, you’re breathing them in and they are known-carcinogens.
Since then, I’ve had a recurrence in ’99, 2000 and again in 2005. So I’m on a regimen of annual checkups to make sure, but there’s still - still it’s a long term thing that I have to continue to live with. It presented early. It presented in ’93. I had been working in fire investigation for about seven years at the time, but, you know, you do - like I think you pointed out in your training presentation on CFITrainer.Net, you know, you get that courage and you just kind of discount things, and so at the time, I went to the Emergency Room and they said, oh, it was probably kidney stones. So I discounted it. I didn’t have the regular symptoms of kidney stones. It didn’t hurt when I urinated or anything like that, but I let it go another three years before I was actually diagnosed. In my case, I was very fortunate that it wasn’t invasive. It was superficial tumors that were resected and as long as I keep it in check and they catch them early, you know, I should have no long term detrimental effects from the cancer.
Russ, you’ve had similar problem with bladder cancer. It kind of parallels mine - I think you’ve had it four or five times - and it’s kind of driven you to have a big interest in fire safety and hazard assessment. Why don’t you talk about your background a little bit and talk about some of the underlying protective regulations that are out there?
RUSS MELTON: Well, let’s start as my cancer, you’re right four or five times, same thing, tumors resected, but as far as differential diagnosis in the medical field, much like what we call scientific methodology, in the NFPA 921, my history is not as clean as yours. I spent many years in the nuclear power industries as a nuke engineer and spent many years on submarines. Then once I got out, I ended up working in foundries and manufacturing operations where we have welding operations, soldering operations, machine oil, cutting oil, etc. So we come back to the causation element. What occurred for me, the first notice, was seeing pink every now and then in the morning when I’d get up in the urine, it’d be a little pinkish. There’d be some drops, pinkish. I was trying a case up in northern Minnesota and just before trial, I went to the restroom and it was bright red. So the first hour and a half of trial, my head was buzzing. I quickly took a break, went back in and it was clear. So I go, oh, must not be a problem.
Well, it was. It just meant that the tumor was leaking. It had gotten bigger and bigger. I had my first surgery in ’94 and I’ve had two instances of a form of chemotherapy since then, and most recently, we’ve gone from 11111 to the last surgery was February 1st which I kept quiet. You don’t want your clients to think that you’re disabled in any manner. I kept it rather quiet, and they removed four tumors, and I’m still having pain and I’m scheduled for the Mayo Clinic the end of May, three days. But it is, like you say, keeping a check on it, going in ongoing, making sure that the tumors do not get too large and then essentially you should be back in the field a week to two weeks later.
BOBBY SCHAAL: So, Russ, you know, you’re talking about when you first presented with blood in your urine, and that’s how I presented as well. Again, you don’t really know what’s going on, so you discount it. But in hindsight, don’t you think it’s important if you see a symptom, don’t take it for granted. Get it checked, and find out what’s going on.
RUSS MELTON: Oh, you’re absolutely right, Bobby. I made the assumption - I first started wearing PPE back, let’s say about 40 years ago. So the idea of having PPE on and being checked once a year by medical, having an x-ray, having blood tested, etc., that wasn’t anything unique. What was unique, though, is seeing blood in my urine, and I thought it was something I ate, something I drank. Like most men, we will find a reason to accommodate that so that we don’t have cognitive dissonance. I determined it was something I ate or drank and, therefore, it would go away. Well, it didn’t. So you’re absolutely right. If you have an aberration that is occurring with your body - breathing, eyes, urine, stomach, esophagus, lungs, get it checked, even though you’re having a yearly physical with x-rays.
BOBBY SCHAAL: Let’s talk about some of the OSHA regulations. I know OSHA, per se, doesn’t necessarily apply to everybody, but every state has a similar statute or parallel statute. Let’s talk about the respiratory protection requirements in 1910.134. I think a lot of people think that just a regular dust mask or N95 filter will protect you, and I don’t necessarily think that’s true because that’s protecting you from the dust, but not the organic vapors and it’s not really protecting all of the exposure routes, the absorption and the injection and that type of thing. What are your thoughts on that?
RUSS MELTON: First of all, OSHA depends upon NIOSH to set the standard. Secondly, most of the standards are 30, 40 years old, and as a consequence, many of them will be changed in the future and they won’t be taken up; they’ll be taken down. Next, moving along to the comment on the respirators, is that what we found is, yes, there’s dust masks that you can use, but they do not comply with the requirements because each standard has a means. For example, at one parts per million, you can use a half face mask. Ten times, you have to move up a little further and a hundred times, yet, at the same time when you go to full face, I believe full face should be used at all times for the reason you just brought up. You’ve got the eye issues, you’ve got the skin issues, and then, of course, you have inhalation issues. So absorption, ingestion, inhalation, all those are means by which it can enter the body. Therefore, the manufacturer has a rating and OSHA has a rating. Either one should be the standard that you follow.
BOBBY SCHAAL: And I think there’s a general misunderstanding or misconception in the fire investigation community that fire scenes aren’t hazardous, and while every fire scene may not qualify as a hazmat scene, some certainly do. But the hazards on the fire scene are increasing every day with the amount of household chemicals, the change in product, construction. It just seems like there’s a lot more bad things on the fire ground that people are taking for granted, and hopefully, through open discussion and dialogue and training and information, we can change that mindset. What are some of the things that you know of that are coming down through the chain that are hopefully going to better inform people of these hazards?
RUSS MELTON: Well, again, Russ here, looking at it, it’s in the news a lot. You’ve heard about some of the chemicals that are involved. Primarily one is dibutyl phthalate. That’s an endocrine disruptor. Pliable plastics. That’s the one that’s hot right now as to what’s happening in pliable plastics. And, of course, it goes towards children, but we run into that a lot. They call it really an endocrine disruptor. You might end up having reduced fertility, you can have skewed male/female ratios, and behavior problems. But most of all, I think we have to be aware and watch what chemicals are coming on the market and what chemicals are in the products that we find in even a standard, relatively "benign" house fire. That’s one of the areas that I think we have to make sure that our members become aware of that once the fire is out, the real hazards begin because during the fire, many of the toxins, because of the heat, are burned away. But once the fire is out, you still have off gassing, you have dust, you can have contact, and this includes metals, it includes liquids and it includes vapors. So I really do not believe - and this is my position - that until you have taken tests, every fires scene is a hazmat scene. And then once the scene’s been characterized - and that’d be both physical and chemical hazards - then you make a determination as to what engineering controls or personal protective equipment controls are required.
BOBBY SCHAAL: Well, and that’s the thing, trying to get people to use the personal protective equipment that’s out there. Safety in the guidelines is really about managing risk. I don’t think we can ever eliminate all risks and all hazards of fire investigation. But with the information and the guidance, we can certainly manage that risk and do things safer. I think one of the things we talked about before we started this call, Russ, was there’s a new book coming out that might have some new information in it. Why don’t you talk about that real quickly before we wrap up.
RUSS MELTON: Okay. Many member within the field have ran into Tom Keifer or ran into Barry Linley or Dr. Appleton from DuPont, and I use them on a lot of major scenes. But they also speak to just a standard residential house fire and the hazards that are involved. We’re editing the book at this stage, and it’s called Street Smart, and it’s chemistry for those that work in the field. What I like about it is it really gives you a brief introduction to chemistry, but then goes into some of the physical changes that happen as a result of being in a fire or incompatible chemicals, the so-called slurry or mix that we run into. The toxicology goes over things like the PEL or permissive explosive limits. It’s probably, I think, the best book in the market. I’m not selling this. It’s one that I’ve read, and it’s one that I keep next to my bed, especially when you’re looking at water reactive and air reactive materials and your organic chemistry. Polymer chemistry is an element that we should know when we’re working, especially when you’re running into issues where either the materials that have been used in that facility such as your vinyl chlorides, your styrene-butadiene, isocyanates would be a good example, urethanes, polyurethanes, etc. It’s a very good book for people that are in the fire industry to have next to their bedside to stay current.
BOBBY SCHAAL: Well, I really appreciate both of you all joining us this afternoon, and hopefully this has been helpful and people really will understand that safety is important, health is important and it can happen to you. Dave, is your prognosis that it’s manageable and you can continue working as long as you use appropriate protection?
DAVID KIRCHER: Yes, that’s correct, Bobby. I just want to real quick throw one thing in here in closing. The biggest thing here is the guy’s got to remember, number one, you talked earlier about dust masks. Dust masks aren’t sufficient protection. Buy a good APR, air purifying respirator. Use organic bottle vapor, cartridges with HEPA, cartridges - combination cartridges. Make sure that you screen - at least screen for those things at the fire ground. Yes, we can do all that other testing and everything else because we know APRs are hazard specific, but if you at least cover those, you’re protecting yourself. And remember that the APR is meant to be worn on the face, not around the neck. If it’s uncomfortable and you get uncomfortable wearing it, consider buying a powered air purifying respirator, which is a little bit better fit, it’s full face, it costs, obviously, a decent amount of money, but it’s well worth the investment. We all want to live to collect those pensions.
BOBBY SCHAAL: Absolutely, and that’s what we’re really trying to do is bring some attention to fire investigator safety because people do take it for granted. But, you know, by putting a face with a problem, hopefully, people will understand it can happen to you. I greatly appreciate you guys joining me, and I thank everyone for listening to this broadcast.
We can take away the following safety reminders from today’s roundtable:
Please take a moment to download and read two studies provided on the podcast’s page: "Characterization of Firefighter Exposures During Fire Overhaul" and "Health Hazard Evaluation Report 96-0171." Protect yourself, if not for you, then for your family.
Finally, we close with news from the IAAI.
IAAI has been awarded a grant through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program for $986,850.00 to expand this Distance Learning Program and to introduce Skill Assessment practicums for advanced testing of fire investigator competency. This grant will also provide continued support for the IAAI monthly podcasts.
The annual election for Officers and Directors of the IAAI is underway on the IAAI website: firearson.com. Members of the Association can vote through noon EDT on Monday May 17th. The results of the election will be announced at the Annual General Membership Meeting in Orlando, Florida on Tuesday May 18th.
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.
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.
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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.
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This module will advise fire investigators on how to approach the fact-finding procedures necessary and validate a hypothesis.
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This module illustrates how wildland fires spread, explains how to interpret burn patterns unique to these types of fires.
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