During the investigative process, there are five logical points for the
investigator to take a time out and mentally review the activities completed
to date. This pause allows the investigator to ensure that nothing has
been forgotten and that the plan is in place to proceed to the next step.
The logical "time out for review" points are:
to responding to the call
the preliminary scene assessment, but before the scene is processed
the scene is processed and before releasing it back to the owner
the follow-up investigation has been completed
VR includes very detailed information on all the steps in this process
that should be reviewed by the investigator. To distill these steps into
a handy "checklist" format will assist the investigator in "self-checking"
actions at the logical review points described above.
checklist will assist the investigator in evaluating the full scene investigation.
Affirmative answers to the questions on this checklist will ensure that
the scene has been fully investigated before it is released. Every scene
is different, and your professional judgment determines how the investigation
should be conducted. These guidelines are intended only as a "self-check"
and the investigator should modify them as required. Please refer to the
Before the Fire and Preliminary Scene Assessment checklists for actions
that should have been taken prior to this point.
fatalities been handled?
victims should have been removed previously, as described in the Preliminary
Scene Assessment checklist. Fatalities must be thoroughly documented and
investigated. The body should be secured and not disturbed until the medical
examiner arrives. Before the body is touched, it should be thoroughly
photographed in place. Then, in concert with the medical examiner, document
the body position, injuries, evidence, and other items as directed. The
medical examiner will provide information on the victim's physical relationship,
his or her possible relationship to the fire, and probable cause of death.
After the body has been removed, consider being present at the autopsy.
Any evidence recovered from the body should be preserved for collection.
Meet with the medical examiner to discuss the autopsy and how its results
inform the investigation.
the fire flow been analyzed and the scene fully examined?
the exterior, document and examine construction, utilities, venting, and
burn patterns. Trace the fire flow back to the area of origin through
burn patterns, smoke damage, and physical evidence. Determine if there
was forcible entry or other indicators of a crime. All evidence that may
point to an incendiary fire, such as trailers, burn patterns, accelerant
pools, discarded containers, and excessive fuel load should be investigated
necessary, has the scene been reconstructed?
some scenes, the suppression of the fire or the damage of resulting from
a collapse may have changed the area of origin from its pre-fire condition.
This may require that reconstruction take place to restore the room's
configuration to pre-fire condition. Document the scene "as is"
first and then complete fire flow analysis and evidence collection. Then,
remove debris layers and repeat the process. Once all debris has been
removed, use protected areas and furniture shape to place contents where
they were at the time of the fire. Firefighters and occupants can also
assist in showing where items were located before they were moved. Also,
family or insurance pictures or video may be available. Once the contents
have been restored to their pre-fire location, examine the scene again
and analyze the fire origin, cause, and flow.
reasonable accidental causes been examined and eliminated or a single
accidental cause determined to be the fire's cause?
accidental causes must be examined and either ruled out or determined
to be the cause. Ask yourself if the system or item could have caused
the fire. If so, how? If no, why not? Determine if the potential accidental
cause is in the area of origin, if sufficient fuel load existed for ignition,
and what event occurred to spark that ignition.
Look for indications of ignition, such as spark pattern or burn pattern
emanating from an electrical outlet. Photograph all accidental causes
you examine and the conditions that led you to rule it out or determine
it to be the cause. Do not go beyond your expertise in making a determination.
If necessary, call in an expert.
has the AK-9 unit or other canine unit(s) been utilized?
detection canines can identify accelerant evidence, search suspects and
their belongings for traces of accelerant, and screen evidence collection
materials. Remember that all accelerant detection canine hits must be
sampled and verified by the laboratory. Other types of canines, including
explosives, cadaver, and rescue should also be tapped as required.
origin been identified?
areas of origin should have been marked off during the preliminary scene
assessment. The scene investigation should conclusively determine the
area or areas of origin. Relate this origin determination to the cause.
Remember that the area of origin may not always been near the cause. An
example of this is an explosion where gas fumes have collected. This may
not happen in close proximity to the source of the gas.
cause determination been made?
cause determinations are suggested in interFIRE VR:
(direct result of accident, unintentional act, or failure of an appliance
(direct human involvement)
(not able to gather sufficient data or evidence to enable identification
of a specific cause)
(result of an act of nature)
cause should only be used in rare circumstances where all accidental causes
have been ruled out, but the investigator has not found evidence of an
incendiary fire. Natural cause determinations must be verified by data
such as lightning strike records and the chain of events must be determined.
Accidental cause should be specifically determined at the scene by identifying
the item or system and constructing the ignition scenario. Incendiary
cause determinations should be supported by the evidence at the scene.
If you have reached an incendiary conclusion, further investigation is
necessary to determine intent.
cause determination should include:
Make sure the entire scenario has been played out and thoroughly investigated
of the ignition source and form of ignition
- what event
caused the ignition
- how contact
was made with fuel load
evidence been collected and submitted for testing?
that may be collected includes:
- fire debris
drug, and plant
(shoe, tire, toolmark)
adhesives, tar, grease, and oil
paper, and cardboard
should be properly packaged and stored for transport prior to closing
the scene investigation. Evidence labels and logs should be completed
and cross-checked. The chain of custody must be maintained as the evidence
is transmitted to the lab. Remember to properly specify tests and enumerate
exhibits in the evidence transmittal letter.
photographic and schematic documentation been completed?
desired photographs before leaving the scene. General categories of photographs
- fire damage
ignition sources and accidental causes
and/or reconstruction are necessary, photographs can be taken layer by
all measurements and a rough scene diagram. This diagram should include:
- all major
features of the location
of contents such as furniture and equipment locations
of all collected evidence as measured from two fixed sources
- all window
and door conditions
witnesses were standing
floor been washed?
At many scenes,
after everything else has been completed, it may be beneficial to remove
all contents and wash the floor. Cut a drainage hole away from the burn
patterns and wash the floor with a gentle stream of running water. Then,
reexamine the burn patterns for additional information.
for an interview been secured from all witnesses?
be oral or written; work within the department's guidelines, district
attorney's advice, and your professional judgment. Be sure to handle special
case witnesses, like juveniles or the mentally challenged, according to
your state's regulations. Make sure that Miranda cards have been properly
witnesses at this location been interviewed?
there will be time during the follow-up investigation to interview witnesses,
it is usually best to interview as many as possible at the scene or very
close to the time of the incident, when memories are the freshest. Seek
out the following types of witnesses:
with direct knowledge of the fire and the area of the fire
with direct knowledge of the behaviors and habits of people involved
in the fire and/or affected by the fire
members and passersby
owner(s), tenant(s), and all others with a financial interest been interviewed?
some of these persons may be interviewed during the follow-up investigation,
it is often most helpful to interview them early because they provide
crucial information about the property and the people connected to it.
The interview should cover:
the day of the fire
observations of the fire
- Key issues
about the property
interviews been documented?
of documentation should be determined by the investigator, department,
and/or district attorney in accordance with state law. These are the accepted
forms of documentation, in ascending order of persuasiveness at trial:
notes only (least persuasive at trial)
but unsigned statement
and signed statement
or videotaped statement (most persuasive at trial)
among these options, follow state law and department policy, then consider
the case's factors, including the significance of the testimony, the witness'
availability for trial, the effect of others on the witness, and the witness'
reaction to the request.
needed additional resources responded to the scene and completed their
is different. Some may require no additional assistance; others may require
multiple resources and staging areas for special operations. Possible
outside resources include:
facilities (generators, tents, etc.)
- Gas, electric,
water and other utilities
and electrical engineering
- AK-9 unit
- Lab personnel
- Bomb squad
that the work of these persons is complete before releasing the scene.
investigative team met and held a wrap-up meeting?
meeting should be used to review all information gathered, present the
origin and cause determination and line it up with the facts, and ensure
that all team members have completed their work and are satisfied that
no additional tasks remain.