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 September 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast. This month’s podcast covers a diverse range of topics: how to use the ATF’s Bomb Arson Tracking System, grant opportunities from the IAAI Foundation, the link between electrical fires and indoor marijuana cultivation, and insight on why people leave stovetop cooking unattended. Let’s jump right in.
Earlier this year, we caught up with ATF Special Agent Dino Ballos, who was attending ATC 2010. Agent Ballos is assigned to ATF’s Bomb Data Center and has critical information on how fire investigators can take advantage of the Bomb Arson Tracking System, or BATS. Let’s listen.
DINO BALLOS: BATS is a case management and information sharing system that gives fire investigation units and bomb squads throughout the country case management technology to document any fire, any explosion investigation and they can also search for case similarities nationwide for potential links.
Q: How did BATS come about?
DINO BALLOS: Well BATS started based on ATF’s designation as the country’s sole repository for arson and explosives incident information. It was developed by agents and investigators for investigators and agents and serves as a direct link for state and local law enforcement and fire service as a direct link to the U.S. Bomb Data Center.
Q: How does somebody get access?
DINO BALLOS: Well the great thing about BATS is, A), it’s free, it’s also web based and agencies and users that are interested can start the process online. The website is www.BATS.gov. So it’s free and they can start the application online.
Q: How do they learn how to use it?
DINO BALLOS: Well, we’ve been conducting live training throughout the country as we’re doing here at the annual training conference, but we’re also scheduling live training through our local ATF offices. Any agency that’s interested in hosting BATS training, as long as you can find a computer lab, a community college, police academy, fire academy with computers, we can schedule live training. And also, we have an infomercial website at BATS.gov where potential users could take a virtual tour and click on our frequently asked questions, and it’s a real good area to start off with BATS.
Q: How many people are using it and where?
DINO BALLOS: Well, we’ve had a tremendous increase in applications. There are over a thousand agencies currently right now participating in BATS. And we’ve also recently opened up BATS to the entire fire service agency on the public safety side. So a significant amount of increase and it’s web based and free.
Also at ATC, we had the opportunity to talk with Bill Schmitt, President of the IAAI Foundation, about recent changes at the Foundation and about grant opportunities available to IAAI chapters and members. Here are the details.
BILL SCHMITT: Well, we’re pretty excited about the Foundation. We’ve got a new start. We merged the former Education Foundation with the IAAI’s Foundation. We have a board now that’s comprised of elected officials instead of appointed board. We think that’s going to be good. It’s going to give us a clear approach to our mission, which is to support the chapters, the IAAI and the individual members in providing opportunities that are not afforded through our budget with the IAAI. So I’m looking forward to taking it to the next level and trying to recruit outside influence that will bring some funding in, that will help us with our missions to provide training throughout the world, and I want to take it to that next level with a real great group of people this year that we’ve got on the board.
Well we’ve already started issuing some grant money to various chapters. For example, the New Jersey Chapter applied for funds to build a burn cell that they’re going to be conducting tests and fire scene examinations and a whole gamut of things that pertain to fire investigation. That facility will be in New Jersey, but it will be available to any other IAAI members or chapters that wish to go down there and get involved in an exercise with that facility.
Q: How does somebody get a grant?
BILL SCHMITT: They need to make an application and the application is a proposal of what you intend to do, what are the logistics of your grant as far as resources needed and the intention of how it will benefit the IAAI and its mission. We are working on specific guidelines and we hope to have those posted very shortly, but that’s generally what we’re going to be looking for.
Q: What kind of opportunities are out there for public and private industry to be able to get money into the Foundation, the support.
BILL SCHMITT: That’s the unknown at this time. We’re actually considering looking for someone that may be interested in working on our behalf to apply for grants, and certainly that they might have an opportunity to manage those grants and help us gather funding. We need to make some inroads with some corporate sponsors and see what kind of partnerships we can have. I’ve had some discussions this week with some people. We’re talking about partnering up with some higher education groups and offering benefits back to the members as a way to help out, and I guess that’s what we’re looking to do. We’re looking to partner with people that will give a benefit back to our organization and its members.
Now, we turn to the news.
As more and more states legalize marijuana used for medical purposes, the number of legal marijuana growers is increasing. The marijuana growing industry is largely unregulated—in fact, dispensaries often refuse to say who their suppliers are. The growing business is lucrative and attracts small-scale growers. In Oakland, California alone, just four retail marijuana dispensaries did $28 million of business in 2009. To keep up with demand, indoor marijuana growing is on the rise, and with it has come the problem of electrical fires due to improperly wired indoor growing equipment. In one incident in Granada Hills, California, firefighters responding to the blaze found 200 marijuana plants in a garage full of grow lights that were hooked up to wires that bypassed the home’s electric meter, an arrangement that apparently sparked an electrical fire. Another fire, this one in a Rancho Cordova apartment, was caused by an overloaded electrical system supplying power to the legal and properly permitted indoor growing operation. In fact, the Oakland, California Fire Department blames a dramatic rise in the number of electrical fires between 2006 and 2009 in part to marijuana being grown indoors with improperly wired fans and lights. A Sacramento Metro Fire spokesman confirmed the same in his jurisdiction. As medical marijuana legislation is passed in more and more states, fire investigators should be ahead of the curve in understanding the potential for electrical fires at small-scale indoor growing facilities, many of which are in single family homes and apartments.
October is approaching, and with it comes Fire Prevention Week. Fire Prevention Week offers an excellent opportunity for fire investigators and the fire service to educate their communities in fire safety. This year’s theme is "Smoke Alarms: A Sound You Can Live With." Community education resources are available from a variety of sources, including:
Finally, we close with news from IAAI
The International Association of Arson Investigators is providing a new benefit for its members. Effective August of this year anyone who is an active, associate, or life member of IAAI is covered by a $10,000 Death and Dismemberment Insurance Policy. This new member benefit has been added with no increase in the annual cost of $75 for membership in the association. If you are a member and have a unique situation that would affect your choice of a beneficiary you should provide this information on a form found on the website.
This insurance benefit is added to the existing benefits which include a subscription to the Fire and Arson Investigator Magazine, discounts on IAAI training classes and credential applications including the Certified Arson Investigator (IAAI - CFI) and the Fire Investigation Technician (IAAI - FIT).
Information about the insurance program including copies of the policy can be found by going to the IAAI website at www.firearson.com.
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.
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.
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 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.