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. Today we welcome IAAI’s new Executive Director, Scott Stephens to talk about the future of the International Association Arson Investigators. Mr. Stephens comes to IAAI with a background in public relations, most recently as Executive Vice President of Bendure Communications. Scott, thanks for taking a few minutes to join us today on the podcast.
SCOTT STEPHENS: Thank you for having me, Rod.
ROD AMMON: The first thing I wanted to say is I think we started talking about this podcast you were a little bit newer than you are now, and you’ve been doing a lot of traveling. I know I’ve seen you in different places representing fire investigation and the members. So already we have reason to be grateful.
SCOTT STEPHENS: Getting up to speed yesterday, I was actually out in Emmitsburg, Maryland at the National Fire Academy. As a guest of Chief Hoover, I was able to sit in on a couple classes and actually examine some burn cells, so that was very interesting and to see a lot of people that are current members out there as well participating and instructing. So I’m learning as I go along and appreciating – appreciate all the help that folks are giving me.
ROD AMMON: Wow, that’s great to hear. That’s a great relationship with the USFA and what they do over there. So tell us a little bit about your background.
SCOTT STEPHENS: Sure. As you said, I came from a public affairs, public relations side of business. I worked with a – I was a partner in a firm based out of Washington, D.C. that worked with several associations and nonprofit clients. Some of our clients included the National Law Enforcement Museum, Volunteers of America, Defense Bar Association. I’ve also served on quite a few boards over the years, one being the American Red Cross, so I understand the nonprofit world. I understand the association world pretty good from a vendor standpoint, so it’s not a big learning curve for me to move on to the client side of the business.
ROD AMMON: I think it’s also really nice to know that you have a background in PR. I’ve – for the years, more than a decade, that I’ve been around with the IAAI working, one of the things that they haven’t been the greatest at is getting out the good word and being able to tell people the real energy and expertise that they have out there, so that’s great to know that you have that background.
SCOTT STEPHENS: Thanks, and we’re starting to see some of that. We’re starting to get – put out press releases on a more regular basis, and our Health and Safety Committee has done some fantastic things, and we’ve been able to get some pickup in other publications and on websites for studies, white papers that we’re doing that have meaningful –transpire over to other fire service industries.
ROD AMMON: It’s – by the way, I think the paper you’re talking about, the health and safety white paper, is available up at firearson.com.
SCOTT STEPHENS: It is. It is along with – there is a Best Practices Quick Facts Sheet as well that can be printed off there that complements the white paper.
ROD AMMON: Okay. Well, I hope people will do that. Again, that’s www.firearson.com. So what made you do the move over to the IAAI?
SCOTT STEPHENS: Good question. You know, I saw a great opportunity to join a well-respected global organization that contributes not only to the fire science community but to the general community as well and went for it.
ROD AMMON: So an interesting opportunity. I’m wondering about challenges and what you saw in the period of time. It’s been, what, three, four – I don’t know. It’s been months. What are the challenges you see?
SCOTT STEPHENS: We are like the Good Housekeeping seal for fire investigation, and we just have to continuously strive to keep at that level of expertise, if you will.
ROD AMMON: I think – and there’s a lot of competition out there from different organizations that are either doing training or may have organizations that are some of the folks that contribute to the fire investigation community. So there’s more and more move to science, and I hear what you’re saying. The Good Housekeeping seal of approval I think is well put, and that would come from CFIs and FITs and all the many different designations and certifications that the IAAI offers. So I could see that as being –
SCOTT STEPHENS: It’s just making sure that our curriculum is current and that we’re at the forefront of technology and that we are constantly updating our classes and our curriculum to reflect what’s going on in the fire science community.
ROD AMMON: I think that’s a challenge with any good organization, especially when you’re trying to be as credible as the IAAI has. So what do you see as opportunities? I know it’s a short period of time that you’ve been around, but you must think about wow.
SCOTT STEPHENS: Let’s go back to the – when you said the challenges.
ROD AMMON: Okay.
SCOTT STEPHENS: We need to stay at the forefront of technology with regard to fire science. I think we also need to be proactive, studying and documenting the cause of origin for new products and technology especially like e-cigarettes and other lithium battery products. So that’s part of the Training and Education Committee, but I think that we’re doing a good job with that, but we need to continuously keep on top of that and keep our finger on the pulse beat of that.
ROD AMMON: It’s nice, too, again going back to your PR background. We can have all this expertise that we want throughout the membership, and there is a lot, but once that content gets put together and information is gathered, it’s good to know that you’ll be putting together a force to get that information out to the public and to other fire investigators.
SCOTT STEPHENS: Correct.
ROD AMMON: So other opportunities for the IAAI to grow?
SCOTT STEPHENS: Well, I think that we have to look at the millennials and others entering the public sector in the fire and law enforcement. That’s the – we have to make our curriculum, our classes, CFITrainer.Net, which is already available to the general public – we have to make that known and, like you said, we have to do a better job of marketing ourselves or branding ourselves, if you will, to the folks that are already on the frontline within the fire and police community and make it known that they can utilize our learning platform to go on to the next step within their careers.
SCOTT STEPHENS: Also, I think that we should do a better job with working with veterans that are coming out of the military and that want to pursue a career in fire science.
ROD AMMON: That’s something I hadn’t thought about and an interesting, thoughtful idea, and I’m sure there’s quite a bit of it, quite a bit of experience there that would be relevant. I hadn’t thought about it. Usually you think about these IED guys who are the folks in the Army that deal with explosives, but that’s part of our world, and all those explosives have ignition sources and all kinds of other things that are going on that relate to fire. When you think about priorities, you run a tight ship, and you’ve got – let’s say if you look out three to five years, what are you thinking about putting out there as your top priorities?
SCOTT STEPHENS: You know, I want to mimic what President Moylan ran on and talked about at the ITC in Frisco. Our top priority is to continue to grow our membership. We’re healthy, but we need to continually grow that and continue to add relevant content to our CFI Trainer platform and expand our on-the-ground training courses, which we’re doing. We’re constantly adding courses all around the country, actually all around the world, and you and your great team at Stonehouse are doing a phenomenal job adding modules to CFI Trainer. Like I said, I was out at the fire academy yesterday, and people were saying great things about the modules and about the program in general, so when you get that type of feedback, you know you’re doing the right thing, so we just have to continuously build on that foundation and update those modules as needed.
ROD AMMON: Well, thanks for the kind words, and we’re glad to hear that people are speaking up out there about the content that they’re capturing online. Speaking of which, I know that you have worked – are very interested in getting training better marketed, more informative, and more accessible at firearson.com, and that has changed but is going to be changing more so to make it – to bring the content straight up to the user and get it so that they can get the information they need at the appropriate time that they can take those classes and register is something that’s really nice, especially if you’re a member with the way that the flow starts to work now. By the way, when we talk about membership, I think it’s interesting. There was a time when I was around where membership was in the 4,000 zone, and now you’re over 9,000 if I’m not mistaken, correct?
SCOTT STEPHENS: We’re actually – we’re closing in on 10,000.
ROD AMMON: Good news, good news. So in terms of training because that seems to be a big topic, where do you see us going in the IAAI in the future?
SCOTT STEPHENS: Like I said, I think we’re looking at adding additional classes for our existing course and certifications, looking at creating new certifications for specific occurrences like wild land, marine, boat fires. I think we need to look at creating programs specifically for cause of origin. We also need to explore virtual and augmented reality as learning tools. The DOD is using augmented reality similar to what the kids are playing with Fortnite, but it’s first responder. So maybe we take that a step further and add the fire investigator into that, so that’s something that I’d like to explore down the road.
ROD AMMON: Pretty interesting stuff. So how about CFI Trainer? How does that fit as you see us moving ahead into the vision of training? Because that’s become more and more integrated all the time.
SCOTT STEPHENS: Distance learning is here to stay in all aspects of continuing education. That being said, I think we need to just – and what you’re doing. We need to continuously update and create new content. We also have to have a platform that works best for our member base, so the ability to serve content on any type of device from a desktop to a smart phone, because a lot of these people are sitting in a stationhouse, taking – watching your modules on their iPhone or their Android, so just continuously doing what we are doing right now with CFITrainer.net, which is looking at what’s going on with technology and adapting to that technology.
ROD AMMON: All right. Before we wrap up, any messages that – or a message that you want to get out there to the membership, to the fire investigation community?
SCOTT STEPHENS: Yeah. As I’m traveling, I just – I’m grateful to all the members out there that – everybody – there’s a lot of people that volunteer a lot of time and effort and hours to make this organization as great as it is, and it just – continue to do that. Continue to be active within the association, and let us know how we can better serve you. My phone number, email is readily available, so people can call me. People can email me. I strongly suggest the members join committees or submit articles to the journal. Get involved and stay involved. We’re only as good as our members, and we have some pretty great members. So thank you for what you’ve done, and let’s continue to keep doing that. We really appreciate it.
ROD AMMON: It’s a really good point. The expertise inside this membership has been incredible and very supportive of CFI Trainer. Without that expertise, without all that time that those people donate like you said, it just wouldn’t happen. You can make pretty pictures all you want, but until there’s credible content behind it, it’s meaningless. So we’re grateful, and I’m grateful to you for the time. I know you’re sort of getting fired up here still, and I don’t know, from the short period I’ve known you, I don’t think it takes long for you to get fired up.
SCOTT STEPHENS: Well, you know, it’s great to have a job that you really like getting up in the morning going to and working with just phenomenal people, and I’ve got great people in the office, membership top notch and willing to help out in every way. So it makes my learning curve that much quicker I guess, having the support that I do, so I appreciate it as well and look forward to many years of making and growing and continuing to keep us the leaders in fire investigations.
ROD AMMON: Thanks very much for what you’re doing, Scott.
SCOTT STEPHENS: Thank you, Rod. Have a great day.
ROD AMMON: All right, you, too. Be well.
SCOTT STEPHENS: Bye.
ROD AMMON: As was discussed, IAAI’s Health and Safety Committee has released a white paper to address the fact that health and safety practices and protocols for fire investigators have not kept pace with those for firefighters. Occupational exposure to combustion products does not stop when the fire is out. Fire investigators are exposed to vapors, gasses, and particulates, often with less safety preparation and personal protective equipment than firefighters. The white paper provides detailed information on the types of protection to use in various fire situations including hot scenes, warm scenes, and cold scenes. Even a cold scene is not safe—the mere act of walking through debris stirs up particulates that can be inhaled. The white paper also covers protocols to conduct a site-safety survey, guard against skin exposures, and clean and decontaminate gear and equipment after the scene examination. You can read the white paper at firearson.com, and there’s a direct link to it on this podcast’s page.
A few quick news items to close out this podcast.
It was impossible to resist clicking on this headline that came across our desk from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, “Meteorite, Satan ruled out, but fire in hole remains a mystery for Arkansas town.” A mysterious hole in the ground the size of a volleyball ejected a 12-foot flame on September 17th, which burned for more than 40 minutes. The fire was observed by the local fire official who saw it die down and go out. Subsequent investigation found no source of methane or natural gas. Because the hole has been there for some time accordingly to local residents, a recent meteorite strike was ruled out. The hole is linked underground to a nearby drainage ditch, and the indications are that it was probably dug by an animal. Nearby fuel tanks were tested and also ruled out. The investigation is ongoing.
And, finally, here’s one you might have seen in the news because it’s one of those things that you probably couldn’t make up if you tried. An off-duty border patrol agent was ordered to pay more than $8 million in restitution for causing the Sawmill Fire in Coronado State Forest in Arizona. How did he cause it? He shot a rifle at a target containing Tannerite so it would explode and release a colored powder that would indicate the gender of the baby he and his partner were expecting. He did this in front of family and friends at a “gender reveal” party. The explosion of the target touched off a fire that burned 47,000 acres of state and federally-owned land. The agent will also serve probation and make a PSA for the forest service.
Thanks for joining us today on the podcast. Stay safe and we’ll see you next time on CFITrainer.Net. For the International Association of Arson Investigators and CFITrainer.Net, I’m Rod Ammon.
Vera, Amir. Border patrol agent's gender reveal party ignited a 47,000-acre wildfire. 2 Oct 2018.
Bowden, Bill. Meteorite, Satan ruled out, but fire in hole remains a mystery for Arkansas town. Arkansas Democrat Gazette. 1 Oct 2018.
Fire Investigator Health and Safety Best Practices. IAAI Health and Safety Committee.
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.