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 this edition of the IAAI’s CFITrainer.Net podcast.
Before we get started, we’d like to say thanks to those who have supported us in our endeavor to create CFITrainer and this podcast.
The podcast and CFITrainer.Net are funded by DHS FEMA Fire Prevention and Safety Grants through the Assistance to Firefighter Grant Program.
We’re also supported by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives.
This month, once again, we’re grateful for the support of UL. Having working smoke alarms is critical to public safety. New technology is enabling alarms to be even more effective to better distinguish between smoke from cooking and that from a potentially life-threatening fire.
Learn more about this new technology and how it’s being incorporated into new editions of safety standards by visiting smokealarms.UL.org.
By the way, if you want to support CFITrainer.Net, you can click on the Donate button on the network page and donate yourself. Any donation you make will go directly to the operations or development of new content for CFITrainer.Net. While we’re grateful for our grant awards and partners, we are always working on finding ways to be sustainable. We’re glad you’re here. Let’s get into the podcast.
Following up on our last two podcasts about wildland investigation, we have two interesting new technology developments in wildland fires to share with you, and then we’ll talk to Lester Rich from the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD. First, the technology developments related to wildland fires.
During the recent spate of wildfires in California, scientists from San Jose State University’s Fire Weather Research Laboratory have been testing an experimental Doppler radar to see inside wildfire smoke plumes with groundbreaking clarity. It’s enabling a new understanding of turbulence, particle movement, and wind inside wildfire plumes. This new technology allows researchers to better understand the structure of wildfires and how they evolve, particularly wind generated by the fire and the spin-out of embers that spark new fires, two things that current models cannot predict.
A better understanding of the mechanics of wildfires might lead to more accurate forecasts and thus earlier and better warning systems as well as more efficient and accurate deployment of firefighting resources. Doppler radar uses the reflection of microwaves off solid objects to derive data on their size and motion. This new system specifically for wildfires uses the Ka band, which is better suited to detecting very small particles like ash. It also scans faster and at a higher resolution than traditional Doppler and LiDAR. This experimental wildfire Doppler is small enough to be mounted on a vehicle and thus can be driven directly to where the fire is.
In other technology news, a team of researchers at Stanford University has developed a non-toxic, biodegradable, cellulose-based, gel-like fluid that helps common wildland fire retardants last much longer. When fire retardant and the booster gel are sprayed together on vegetation, the gel helps the retardant last the entire fire season because it is resistant to the effects of weather and stops the evaporation of moisture in the retardant that renders it ineffective, which can happen in a short period of time if it’s deployed near the heat of an active wildfire. Although the gel will eventually degrade, that process takes months, and therefore reapplication will be needed much less often, saving time and resources and significantly reducing the amount of retardant needed to provide long-lasting protection.
The gel-retardant combination could be particularly effective in preventative treatment of fire-prone areas, including those frequented by humans (who cause a high percentage of wildfires) and areas under power lines. The gel-retardant combination could also be used to slow or stop the spread of an existing fire by keeping flying embers from sparking new spot fires. The gel can be applied using existing agricultural and aircraft-based spraying equipment. In tests conducted with CalFire, the treatment including the new gel provided complete fire protection even after an inch of rain; without the gel, the same fire retardant provides little to no protection under the same conditions. Further tests on high fire-risk roadside areas are currently underway. The gel has been recently branded as a product called Fortify and is now commercially available. Be sure to check out the links on this podcast’s page to source articles so you can read more of the technical details and the story about how the idea for the gel came to the lead researcher and how his team made it real.
Now let’s take a few minutes to learn about what is going on at the NFA!
With us today is Lester Rich, an IAAI-CFI who is a Training Specialist and Curriculum Manager for the National Fire Academy at the U.S. Fire Administration. Lester is also a retired ATF Special Agent/Certified Fire Investigator and was a member of the National Response Team for ten years. Let’s head over now to The National Emergency Training Center, or NETC, in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
ROD AMMON: So, we’re here in Emmitsburg at the National Fire Academy with Lester Rich. I just wanted to say thank you very much, Lester, for being with us.
LESTER RICH: Excellent. Thank you for coming out.
ROD AMMON: We’ll jump right into it and talk a little bit about your background.
LESTER RICH: Okay. So, I am the training specialist for the Fire and Investigative Sciences Program here at the NFA. That encompasses all the fire investigation and forensic science, courtroom testimony courses, pretty much all aspects of the curriculum that relate fire investigation.
ROD AMMON: So, tell me how you got started here at the NFA. What brought you in?
LESTER RICH: I was – I’ve always been interested in the training environment. So, I started out as the fire marshal in Watauga County up in North Carolina and then went to work for Charlotte Fire Department as an investigator. That’s where I got involved with ATF, found out a little bit about their fire investigation responsibilities. So, I applied, was selected there by ATF. They sent me to Charleston, so I was there for a while, and then I took a deferred retirement from them, started my own fire investigation company with a couple other people. So, we ran that for 10 years, and then this position opened up, and I was kind of interested to get back in training. And so that’s how I ended up back up here and – or not back up here. That’s how I ended up here in Maryland.
ROD AMMON: That’s a pretty interesting path. It’s – I’m not used to hearing people take the break, go private, and come back.
LESTER RICH: Right, and it was good for me at the time, and actually for this particular position, I think it was a fortuitous that I did that because it kind of gives me a perspective of both sides of the coin.
ROD AMMON: So, tell me about how you create curriculum.
LESTER RICH: Sure. So about – specifically here at the academy, about two years ago, we had a curriculum review. So, we brought in people from all across the country review the existing curriculum. They were in here for about a week. I had academics, practitioners, instructors just to – as many people as I could get to come look at the curriculum. So out of that came this, and so what we’re doing is we just created a overall broad curriculum. We sort of created two bookends in the curriculum, so I have the Fire Investigation Essentials course, which is 772. All the numbers changed. Some of the names changed. All the content changed.
ROD AMMON: Why did you change the numbers?
LESTER RICH: So, the number change is how the – it’s basically administratively so that the academy designates that as a new course, a completely different course from what it was. So, the old 200 numbers were archived and – but that number can’t go away. You can’t recycle it, so we ended up with new numbers moving to the 700s.
ROD AMMON: I think you guys are just doing it to make yourselves look smarter.
LESTER RICH: It is – 700 is a lot smarter than 200, sure. So, we moved to the 700s, and we’ve got the Essentials course, which is – well, there’s a First Responder course, which is very similar to the video like IAAI made. It basically deals with issues that affect the first responder as related to fire investigation or responding to fires, protecting the scene, preserving evidence, identifying evidence, some things like that. So in between those two bookends, we’ve got an electrical course. We have a Technical Aspects course, and we have a Expert Witness Courtroom Testimony course. And then also we are working on a online instructor led or a mediated report writing course, so in that particular course, the student will take it wherever they are, anticipate that course will run about six weeks, and it will really delve into a writing an expert report, writing a more complex report.
ROD AMMON: I know there’s a lot of people who are going to appreciate that.
LESTER RICH: I think it will be very popular once we get it up and running.
ROD AMMON: I think there’s a lot of people who read reports who are going to really appreciate that, too. I know that when I talk to people, there’s – it’s like in so many industries writing, writing well is so important.
LESTER RICH: Right, and it’s sort of a unique situation in that we introduce that subject in Essentials, but there’s just not time in that two weeks to really delve into the writing. And then it pops up again in the technical and obviously – or not obviously, but one of the changes for the new Courtroom Testimony course, we developed all new cold-case fire scenes. And so those fire scenes will now get presented to the student on their arrival here, and during the first week of the class they will actually craft or create their own expert report. And that’s the report they’ll use to testify from the second week of the class. And the other thing we’re kind of excited about is we expanded that to include three testimony opportunities now. So, a student will have a CV, sort of like a Daubert Challenge the first part of the week. They then will have a deposition about that same case file, and then towards the end of the week, there will be a mock trial where each student will also testify in court about that same case file that they’ve been working with all week.
ROD AMMON: It’s pretty in depth. You’ve done a lot of work.
LESTER RICH: It’s a lot of stuff. It’s a lot of material. That’s for sure.
ROD AMMON: It’s interesting to me and I’ve been around a little bit with you guys for quite some time now, and when I think about fire investigation and the USFA or NFA for the academy here, I am thinking, wow, you’ve really expanded. I think of usually the NFA as being more about other aspects of firefighting. Has it expanded more in fire investigation?
LESTER RICH: It has in – well, I – yes. So, one of the kind of interesting parts of that, and this is a little urban history or oral history that I’ve been told, so that the NFA was actually offering fire investigation courses very early on. Like some of the very first courses that the Fire Academy offered were in fire investigation and arson. So that program has been entrenched in the NFA since its inception. This is a – I think this is a reboot of that in that it’s more cohesive now, and this new curriculum is more in line with 921, 1033, with Kirk’s and the other books and publications that are out there. And it also seems like it’s in line with things that other training organizations are doing.
So, like with IAAI, they’re partners with us in this adventure up here that we have. These courses count towards IAAI like the FIT certification for essentials or for – to meet the requirement for the courtroom testimony. That course will. Obviously, ATF has been here for probably 10 or 12 years since – ago that they got really heavily invested in participating with the NFA and really dumping a lot of resources into this program. So, when ATF got involved, that was kind of the turning point where the program really started to swing towards science and education and research and testing and with the fire research lab. And then as this curriculum development starts to unfold, we picked up some other partners. We picked up Underwriters Laboratory with contributing content, contributing expertise, writing some of the stuff for us, same thing with ATF’s fire research lab. We can get engineers up here to instruct. They’ll assist with that content development as well.
The other partnership we’ve got is with Homeland Security’s Science and Technology directorate. So, I don’t know a lot of – some firefighters might be familiar with them. They have focus groups. They look at designing additional equipment or things that would assist the first responder. And it’s sort of a – it’s a DHS program that sort of fast tracks that development and then tries to get it to the streets. So I think that’s probably one of the big things that’s changed in the last two or three years is – and especially with the rewrite is the inclusion of some more experts, some more subject matter experts, some additional partners to help really elevate the level of what we're doing here.
ROD AMMON: And you’re doing blended learning as well. I mean with this online stuff that you’re doing yourself and with the partnership with CFITrainer, which obviously we all appreciate very much.
LESTER RICH: Yes, yes. We appreciate that, too.
ROD AMMON: Without saying thank you from the IAAI would be remiss. You’re also doing some things outside. Want to talk a little bit about that? That’s expanded as well.
LESTER RICH: It’s a lot of concrete. Yes, we have expanded again. As best I could tell, the original burn cells were dropped in there sometime in ‘86, ‘87 maybe. So, we now have the flashover ventilation demo burn building. We have a complex burn building, which is a 15 by 40. Right now, it’s set up like a townhouse. It’s configurable. The walls are movable inside so we can do multi-room burns in that structure. And then this summer we just completed construction of eight. They’re attached, but they’re individual burn cells.
One thing we were able to do is create some different layouts. So, they’re all 10 by 14, but we were able to move the doors in different places. Some of the cells has multiple windows. We have – one of the cells, the windows are different heights so we can get an inflow and outflow, kind of simulate flow path there. Some of the windows are really close together. Some of them are farther apart. We tried to really, as much as we could, create variations for ventilation. It’s a great learning opportunity for students because even if they came back, if they were here one month and came back the next month, they’ll get completely different fires essentially with – depending on the layout, the furniture, where it was set, that kind of stuff.
ROD AMMON: That’s awesome. I – it’s so funny. When we started out, you made it sound like, oh yeah, we’ve been doing this for a long time, and then you start talking, and quite frankly, it seems to me you’re picking up a lot of momentum. You’ve got a lot of fresh information and content being put out there and structure. So now I’ve always got to push a little bit more. What’s the future like? What are you seeing?
LESTER RICH: It’s – I see this as really the demand increasing as far as wanting this course offered more often or the ability to put that together. That’s one of the things we’re talking about with Chief Hoover and the administration here is like, how do we really meet that need? Because it’s – I mean, if I – if we have the best-case scenario, I can put about 800 or so students a year through each of those courses.
The other part of that is the instructor cadre that we have here. So, we have a combination, like I said, of ATF. So, they’re here on campus all the time. We usually get a visiting a CFI, so ATF will bring one of their CFIs from the field in to contribute to the course, which is really good for the students. One, it lets them see an ATF agent, and then they develop that relationship as well. We also have expanded that now to include like the Maryland Fire Marshal’s Office. So, they’re bringing a canine in for the practical exercise.
So now our students have access to a dog. Some of them use the dog all the time. Some of them maybe never had a dog at their department. So that expands. So, really, it’s – I see the future as just an increase in the level of the instructor and that group or that partnership that we’re leveraging with UL and ATF and the fire research lab and even our contract instructors. I’ve got engineers on the contract instructor staff now, and we’re really trying to bolster that.
ROD AMMON: I remember talking to Superintendent Hoover, and she said, you’ve got to get out of here and talk to Lester, and I’m glad we did.
LESTER RICH: I’m sure glad you guys came out. I do. I think it’s the – really that’s probably the biggest takeaway is the partnerships that are nurtured here. They’re started elsewhere, but then when they come here, we have instructors from IAAI, ATF. Like I said, we named them all, but just the fact that it’s a sort of incubator for ideas, and we get people from different – law enforcement, private sector, private research, government research, science and technology.
It’s just a really unique sort of academic environment where you can kind of leverage that, and people have good ideas, and they’ll be like, hey, what if we try this in the burn cell? We’ll be like, let’s try that. That’s really probably one of the most interesting aspects of it is just getting all that group of people together, and we often – we don’t always agree on everything, but at the end of the day, it’s a great – it produces a great product for the student.
ROD AMMON: Well, I didn’t finish the sentence before, but thank you.
LESTER RICH: You’re welcome. You’re welcome.
ROD AMMON: That was what I had started to say on behalf IAAI and CFITrainer and everybody else. We really appreciate it.
LESTER RICH: You’re welcome. You’re welcome. Thank you, guys, for coming out.
ROD AMMON: Once again, Lester, thanks for joining us today, and we hope everyone listening will take a few minutes to use the link on this podcast page to check out NFA’s current courses for fire investigators.
Before we wrap up today, I want to give a special shout out to Cathy Dipierro who researches and writes a ton of content for our podcasts and for CFITrainer.Net modules. Thanks for what you do, Kathy.
Thanks for joining us today on the podcast. We wish you all a safe holiday season. We’ll see you next time on CFITrainer.Net. For the IAAI and CFITrainer.Net. I’m Rod Ammon.
Learn more about this new technology and how it's being incorporated into new editions of safety standards by visiting smokealarms.UL.org
National Fire Academy
National Fire Academy Courses
Stone, Maddie. Experimental Radar is Being Used to Peer Beneath the Smoke of the California Fires. The Washington Post. 4 Nov 2019. Reprinted by Science Alert.
Jones, Brad. Stanford Scientists Invent Fire Prevention Gel. The Epoch Times. 6 Nov 2019.
Jordan, Rob. New Treatment Helps Prevent Wildfires. Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. 30 Sep 2019.
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.