a day passes in any country where arsonists don't walk out of trial courts
astonished they were found "not guilty."
Not a day
passes that property insurance carriers worldwide aren't forced to pay
criminals who set, or had their businesses or property set on fire.
these failures often returns to a single fact-the samples taken by fire
investigators from suspicious burn patterns in buildings and motor vehicle
fires came back from the laboratory "negative."
of the presence of ignitable liquid residue the fire's cause very often
becomes a battle of experts with one side struggling to establish an intentionally
set fire and the other claiming the same peculiar burn patterns are the
result of flashover phenomena, falling burning debris or some other perfectly
cases, the trial court judge and jury often know something is wrong with
the fire but there just wasn't enough evidence to "prove it."
In these cases and thousands of others, justice is derailed when juries
acquit or prosecutors or the investigators themselves decide not to file
charges because their samples were "negative."
perhaps most of these arson cases, the tables could have turned if the
fire investigator knew how to take expert quality samples. This includes
expertise of the identified ignitable liquid accelerant and their sampling
In some other cases, unusual burn patterns may have lead investigators
to incorrectly conclude an incendiary fire and discount the lab analysis
that correctly tested negative.
there is no real debate about whether the bar needs to be lifted significantly
on the quality of evidence collection at fire scenes. It is obvious.
Five Hundred Thousand Arson Fires in the U.S. Alone
is no dispute about another thing: of the approximately two million fires
reported by American fire departments each year, a full quarter-five hundred
thousand fires, are estimated by leading government, NFPA and property
insurance industry sources to be intentionally set.
it has become a cliché that when someone decides to use fire to
even a score with an enemy or competitor or cash in the fire insurance
policy the first thing reached for is "gasoline."
a scene ignited by a "splash and dash" or "plant and trailer"
the fire investigator needs two highly developed skills; the ability to
search a scene for the unique damage patterns associated with burning
ignitable liquid use and, when found, the ability to expertly take evidence
samples from the patterns on any floor or contents present.
To be consistently
successful at the fire scene and in the witness chair requires mastery
of specific skills and a body of information. Most of us understand (or
have witnessed) the damage done to an otherwise competent investigation
when the investigator on the stand can't provide a basic definition, specific
fact or explanation for a common term or item of evidence.
Limits (flammable limits) - The extreme lower and upper concentrations
of an air/gas mixture in which combustion or deflagration will be supported.
Generally, fuels with broad flammable/explosive limits such as acetylene
(2.5% to 80% by volume) are considered more hazardous.
- (dimethyl ketone, 2-propanone), (C3H6O), flash point -4° F (-20°
C); ignition temperature 869° F (465.4° C); explosive limits
2.6%-13.0%; vapor density 2.0; specific gravity 0.792; toxicity (3).
A volatile, flammable, colorless, liquid ketone having a fragrant odor
and miscible with water, alcohol and most oils. Principal uses are as
a solvent in lacquers, varnishes, cosmetics, nail polish remover and
in the mixture of other solvents.
that if you are going to work in this field there are skills and information
that you must possess.
brand new Weapon in the War against Arson
Guide to Accelerant Evidence Collection has been recognized as a
leading resource in the specialized field of fire pattern recognition
associated with ignitable liquids and expert arson debris sampling procedures.
in 1992, this unique how-to manual is the result of ten years of exhaustive
research of the standards in this field, live fire experimentation and
collaboration by a select team of experienced fire/arson investigators,
fire scientists and forensic chemists.
has been included as part of major arson training programs or is a recommended
revolutionary interFIRE VR CD-ROM fire/arson investgation-training
program released in 2000.
- The Guide
to Fire and Explosion Investigation, NFPA 921 (1993 & 1998 Editions)
Fire and Arson Scene Evidence: A Guide for Public Safety Personnel,
U.S. Department of Justice (2000 Edition)
for Arson Prevention and Control School, National Fire Academy, Emmitsburg,
Cause and Origin School & Arson Prosecutors School, ATF National
Academy, Glynco, GA
Arson School, FBI National Academy, Quantico, Virginia
Four thousand copies of the 1st Edition were sold or given to students
in seminars, fire investigation training academies and by mail order
in North America, Europe and Australia
Guide to Accelerant Evidence Collection, 2nd Edition is nearly 50 percent
larger and contains many new sections and up-to-date revisions of the
to be carried into the fire scene, the classroom and the courtroom this
definitive how-to pocket sized manual will provide fire scene investigators
with on the spot information including:
Thirty "symptoms" that may indicate ignitable liquids were
used to start or propagate an arson fire.
Ten major physical properties of the twenty most common flammable/combustible
liquids used as fire accelerants.
The best places to take ignitable liquid residue samples and the sampling
locations to avoid.
How to prevent cross-contamination of your samples by your tools and
The most effective sampling methods for each of the seven com- mon
How to load evidence containers for best results with today's GC/MS
Physical and chemical properties for twenty common ignitable liquids
used as fire accelerants.
A glossary of fire and arson terms.
A concise listing of tools needed for arson debris sampling and scene
Vital information on an investigation protocol that has proven successful
in increasing arson case clearance (arrest) rates and also arson debris
of the Future
arson conviction rate standing at approximately 2 percent per one hundred
known arsons for at least the past twenty years, arson has earned its
reputation as the toughest crime to solve.
be starting to change. The future for fire/arson investigation is looking
brighter today than ever before. Among the most powerful influences
on present and future reshaping of this field are:
A Pocket Guide to Accelerant Evidence Collection, 2nd Edition will play
a role in this improvement. To learn more about the manual go to the
website at www.maiaai.org or send your name and address with a check
or money order for ten dollars to Pocket Guide, P.O. Box 364, Brimfield,
MA 01010 (USA) to receive a copy postpaid. Orders from outside the U.S.
must send eleven dollars in U.S. funds to help defray mailing costs.
There are significant discounts for bulk orders.
This article doesn't necessarily reflect the views of American Re-Insurance
Corry is an Assistant Vice President and Fire Investigation Specialist
in the Property Claims Division, based in American Re's Hartford, Connecticut
office. Bob's responsibilities include consulting with clients on arson
and fire loss claims and providing educational programs on arson investigation
and defense, and underwriting against arson.
on the Massachusetts State Police from 1974 until his retirement in
1997. From 1982 until 1997 he was assigned to the Massachusetts State
Fire Marshal's Office (SFMO). Bob was a fire and arson investigator
assigned to the Hampden County District Attorney's Office for 10 years
conducting fire, arson and bomb investigations in 26 communities, and
was Detective Lieutenant and Commanding Officer of the statewide SFMO
Fire, Arson and Explosion Investigation Unit, the largest unit in the
state police, from 1992 until 1997. In addition, Bob was an Accelerant
Detection Canine handler from 1990 until 1992.
been the principle developer of arson training programs and publications,
including the Pocket Guide to Accelerant Evidence Collection. In addition,
he lectures on fire/arson investigation, interview & interrogation
techniques, and criminal investigation techniques to the Massachusetts
state and local police and fire academies, the National Fire Academy,
and the FBI National Academy.
of the Massachusetts Chapter of the International Association of Arson
Investigators, Bob served as the group's Vice President in 1987 and
President from 1988 until 1990. He is also a member of the National
Fire Protection Association. Bob earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminology
from Northeastern University and a Master of Science in Criminal Justice
Studies from American International College. He served the U.S. Army
from 1966 through 1970, where his last assignment was Captain, 173rd
Airborne Brigade in Vietnam.
This article appears courtesy of Munich Re America, Inc. formerly American Re-Insurance Company.