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.
will assist the investigator in evaluating the follow-up investigation.
At this point, it will be important to ensure that all investigation is
complete and that a conclusion has been reached. As always, every case
differs, and your professional judgment determines how the investigation
should be conducted. These guidelines are intended only as a "self-check"
and should be modified by the investigator as required. Please refer to
the Before the Fire, Preliminary Scene Assessment, and Before Releasing
the Scene checklists for actions that should have been taken prior to
all appropriate governmental sources of information and assistance been
sources can include municipal, county, state, and federal governments.
Offices that may contain financial records, court records, building histories,
and past incident records include the tax assessor, clerk, court, building
department, fire department, DMV, medical examiner, sheriff. Investigative
assistance can be sought from the State Police, ATF, Customs, IRS, USSS,
FBI, and USPS.
all fire incident reports and police reports been reviewed?
These reports should be reviewed and key events, such as time of first
alarm and time of fire company arrival, should be added to the timeline.
Incident reports may also contain information given to police by people
at the scene.
Have electronic databases that hold information pertinent to the case
AEXIS (Arson and Explosives Incident System) collects and disseminates
data about arson and explosives incidents. The AEXIS database can provide
valuable cross-references on a wide range of incident characteristics
and critieria. AEXIS is maintained by the National Repository Branch of
the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Arson and Explosives Program
Division. Data collected include:
incident information (location, type, dates, losses)
- fire incident
information (ignition, cause of ignition, equipment involved)
information (type, building status, smoke detectors, extinguishment
information (suspects, motivations, method of entry and ignition, property
query to the AEXIS system can be very helpful in identifying incidents
with similar patterns, suspects, locations, or other criteria. In addition,
you should submit data about the cases you are investigating so it can
be added to the database. For more information on AEXIS, contact the National
Repository at (202) 927-4590.
addition to AEXIS, other databases such as wants and warrants, criminal
histories, the Department of Motor Vehicles, stolen articles, AFIS (fingerprint
database), DNA database, and public records can all assist in the investigation,
depending on the circumstances of the case.
applicable, has the accidental cause been researched and product defects
or installation/maintenance violations reported?
If the determined cause is accidental due to an appliance, the investigator
should report product defect to the Consumer Products Safety Commission
and other appropriate bodies. If faulty installation or maintenance is
to blame, the proper regulatory agencies should be notified of the violation.
all records and information been properly and legally obtained?
All records must be released through consent, court order, or other approved
means. Failure to do so may jeopardize the admissibility of any evidence
a thorough financial investigation been conducted, with the assistance
of a forensic accountant where applicable?
A thorough financial investigation should:
If a more in-depth
analysis of financial motive is necessary, engage a forensic accountant
to perform an analysis.
owners, employers, occupants, family, friends, suppliers, and others
about the suspect's financial status, payment records, and financial
financial records such as tax returns, liens, judgments, loans, foreclosures,
and tax delinquencies
insurance files (see separate Checklist question)
all new witnesses been interviewed, any previous witnesses re-interviewed,
and suspect(s) interviewed so that all statements have been corroborated
or otherwise resolved?
During the follow-up investigation, new witnesses or suspects may surface
and facts uncovered may require re-interviewing witnesses. All statements
made by witnesses or suspects should be corroborated by the facts. Any
unresolved issues should be explored with the witness or suspect.
all lab results been received and reviewed?
Remember that all AK-9 accelerant alerts must be verified by laboratory
analysis. In addition, the laboratory can analyze explosives, fibers,
prints, glass, handwriting, ignitable liquids, plastic and adhesives,
toolmarks, and many other items. These lab results inform the follow-up
investigation. The results of lab tests should be integrated into the
theory of the case. For detailed information on all types of evidence
and their lab tests, see interFIRE VR or consult your laboratory.
all insurance records been obtained in accordance with the law?
Records must be obtained by one of the following methods:
release form from the insured
court order, or search warrant
by a qualified official under the state's Immunity statute
all insurance files been thoroughly reviewed?
The investigator should obtain insurance records for property owners and
occupants. These files include: the Agent/Broker Policy File, the Agent/Broker
Claims File, the Insurance Carrier Claims File, the Underwriting File,
the Property Insurance Loss Register (PILR) and Bodily Injury Claims Register
reports, and the Special Investigative Unit File.
files contain a wealth of information about the property that can be used
to uncover suspicious or irregular activity, as well as inconsistencies
with witness statements. The basic information that should be reviewed
Look for material
misrepresentations in property and inventory, inconsistencies, recent policy
changes, payment problems, and prior claims history.
of the property's description and nature and if this matches what existed
at the time of the fire
- The itemization
of losses in the claim and whether this matches what existed at the
time of the fire
given to the insurance company by the insured and others and whether
they match statements given to the investigator
from the insurance company's experts
records included with the insurance
- If one
exists, the Examination Under Oath of the insured, which is not subject
to 5th Amendment provisions
insurance company personnel been interviewed?
Insurance company personnel may have information about their dealings
with the insured and can relay any conversations they had, as well as
attest to their payment history and policy change requests. People to
and Cause Expert
sure to work with any Special Investigative Unit, especially if the insurance
company is refusing to pay the claim. Information uncovered in their claim
investigation may assist you.
motive, means, and opportunity been considered and a theory of the case
When developing the theory of the case, answering the questions of motive,
means, and opportunity require you to think through all the facts and
organize them. Consider who is the victim, what is the motive, what suspect
had the means, and when did they have the opportunity. Answer key behavioral
questions about the suspect, including where s/he was at the time of the
fire, what was their financial status and their family status, who had
access to the structure and how, and what were the recent activities of
suspects. Line up all the physical evidence and cross-check all facts
in this framework.
a timeline been constructed and supported with facts and witness statements?
Constructing a timeline is extremely valuable in sorting out how the incident
developed. Timelines may stretch back years and include prior incidents,
criminal activities, insurance changes, and financial problems as well
as the events immediately preceding and following the fire incident. All
timeline entries should be supported by corroborated facts.