Fire investigation is a required duty for fire officers. This requirement is explicitly stated in NFPA 1021: Standard for Fire Officer Professional Qualifications under Fire Officer II job performance requirement 5.5.1, as "Determine the point of origin and preliminary cause of a fire, given a fire scene, photographs, diagrams, pertinent data, and/or sketches, to determine if arson is suspected so that law enforcement action is taken." This requirement is an important part of the department's community risk reduction mandate. To know what prevention strategies and programs we should offer the community, we must first know what causes fires in our community. To know that, every fire must be thoroughly and properly documented, investigated, and reported. We know from NFPA's Fourth Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service that, in thousands of jurisdictions, the task of documenting, investigating, and reporting fires is assigned to fire officers rather than a dedicated fire investigator. 60% of the more than 5,000 fire departments who responded to the survey do not have a fire investigator available at the department. In many cases, the incident commander, fire chief, or fire officer steps into this void to conduct the fire investigation. Even in departments that do have dedicated fire investigators, it may still be incumbent upon the first responding fire officer to make an origin and cause determination in fires that have a localized area of origin.
Unfortunately, many fire officers do not receive specific training or advanced training in fire investigation. This training may be difficult to obtain, especially for volunteers who cannot afford time off work to attend training at the state or national level, may be minimal, or may not be compliant with NFPA 1033: Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator. It is not possible, in a single online module, to fully train fire officers in the intricacies of fire investigation. However, here, we will provide a roadmap for fire officers to integrate and navigate their fire investigation duty with all their other responsibilities and describe where to obtain specific training in fire investigation.
Dedication: "Fire Investigation for Fire Officers" is dedicated to Jamie Novak, a fire investigator who served as an expert on many CFITrainer.net modules and passed away while lending his expertise to the development of this program. Jamie was retired from the St. Paul FD and was a pillar of the fire investigation community. He traveled across the United States and the world sharing his knowledge, friendship, and sense of humor. He was well-respected by all and shaped the careers of many who came after him. He will be missed.