the development team was discussing the design of interFIRE VR, a dichotomy
quickly emerged. We recognized the value of teaching and encouraging the
"Team Concept" approach to fire investigation, yet we were aware
that many fire investigators are solely responsible for carrying out all
the fire investigation duties and tasks. During the content development
process, we constantly walked the line between encouraging the practice
of a team investigation, yet providing a realistic path for investigators
who are on their own.
of the fire investigation protocol delivered in the interFIRE VR Tutorial
is clear on this point. Although the team approach plays a prominent role,
the content is written so that it doesn't matter whether one or many carry
out the investigation. However, this is less clear in the Scenario. Partly
by design and partly by the technical constraints of single workstation
delivery, the Scenario is by definition worked by a single computer user,
albeit with the assistance of a few "virtual officers" who you
can send to perform duties like crowd canvassing or locating a witness.
The committee's thinking on the pedagogical reason for a single-user,
multi-role model was threefold:
- The majority
of fire investigators are examining the scene on their own, or with
minimal assistance, and should thus practice and train for this reality.
who work on a team and fulfill a single role, such as a photographer
or an evidence technician, will benefit from the "cross training"
of working an entire investigation on their own. They will be able to
see the investigation from a the vantage points of the other professionals
whose skills and insights complement their own.
whose primary responsibility is not fire investigation, such as fire
service, police officers, insurance adjusters, and attorneys, should
work all aspects of the scenario to gain a broad understanding of the
fire investigation process "from call through court".
one user at the center of the Scenario or as the single point of view
on the Tutorial's investigation protocol has the beneficial effect of
immersing the user in the experience, involving them in pacing their own
learning, and understanding the investigative process from beginning to
end. However, it may also unintentionally place blinders on the user,
making them unable to see the other ways that interFIRE VR can be employed
to make our communities safer. Here are five innovative ideas for how
to extend the capabilities of interFIRE VR into new applications.
the Scenario as a team. Gather a group of your colleagues, call a special
Arson Task Force session, set aside a local professional association meeting,
or hold a workshop at a conference. Each member brings a laptop or a desktop
computer and a copy of interFIRE. Designate a Team Leader and divide up
the attendees into Team Concept roles:
and Cause Investigation (examining area of origin)
Area Investigation (conducting witness interviews)
Area Investigation (examining rest of property besides area of origin)
your judgment in dividing these duties between the number of people you
have. Each team member should first review the duties of that position
in the Tutorial and any content-related tutorial sections. Then, divide
up the Scenario investigation tasks by role and assign them to the appropriate
team members. Encourage investigators to talk to each other and share
information as they work the scene.
the Photography and Schematics member next to the Origin and Cause member(s)
so s/he can follow and take photographs on his/her machine as directed
by the origin and cause investigators working on their machines. Place
the Evidence Collection member on the other side of the O&C team,
so he/she can follow along and collect evidence at the direction of the
O&C investigators. The Immediate Area Investigation can work on the
witness interviews and locating witnesses, talking with O&C to keep
up on the scene examination. The General Area team can move out into the
rest of the house and yard, searching for evidence and performing tasks
like noting the condition of doors and windows and reporting it to the
Photography and Schematics member.
for team meetings, led by the Team Leader, where each participant shares
the information they have gathered and new assignments are made. For example,
the Immediate Area Investigation may report that they have spoken to the
residents and that they insist the space heater was turned off when they
left. The new assignment would be for Origin and Cause Investigation to
focus on the space heater and determine if it was the cause of the fire.
tasks at the scene have been discharged, hold a team meeting to determine
the origin and cause. Share all information gathered during the investigation
and reach a conclusion. If an incendiary call is made, discuss each of
the possible points of support and whether or not they apply in this case.
Then, have all members of the team enter the same O&C determination
on their individual computers. If the determination is incorrect, assess
the feedback and determine, as a team, how to proceed. If the determination
is correct, move on to the Follow-Up Investigation.
At this point,
reassign personnel to cover the Follow-Up Investigation duties. Assign
one person to review witness statements for missed clues. Assign another
team member to comb the insurance files and consult with the person in
charge of witness interviews to verify statements about insurance given
by the witnesses. The evidence collection team member from the on-scene
investigation can now review the lab reports s/he ordered. Yet another
team member can take the lead on the financial documents, again comparing
them to witness statements. And a different team member can review all
the fire and police reports for clues. Combine duties if you have fewer
numbers of team members. Again, meet regularly to discuss what is being
Follow-Up Investigation is finished, move on to Report Out. As a group,
formulate the answers to the five questions and type them in on one or
all of the computers. During the Virtual Prosecutor phase, review these
answers compared to the model answers and review and discuss the other
feedback measures, such as the status bar performance and the origin and
cause determination accuracy. Debrief the scenario with the team, discussing
what the team did well and what can be improved. Then, review your own
team procedures based on this and adjust how you will approach the next
real fire call.
is not enough time at a single team gathering to work the scenario all
the way through, concentrate on certain aspects of it, such as just the
scene investigation, and take up the follow-up investigation at your next
One of the
goals of interFIRE VR was to provide a breadth of information on the many
different actions of professionals that affect the investigation of fires,
including fire suppression, evidence collection, photography, insurance
investigation, and trial preparation. Professionals using interFIRE VR
may gravitate towards the topics they know the most about or in which
they are the most interested. This is a natural tendency and deepens your
knowledge in your specialty.
interFIRE VR can also be a valuable cross-training tool for disciplines
with which you are less familiar. A firefighter will benefit by reviewing
the evidence collection Tutorial sections because they describe the types
of evidence at a fire scene, their nature, and how they are used to solve
crimes. Thus, a firefighter will better understand the clues that are
all around him/her at a fire and will be more aware of how to preserve
evidence because s/he knows what it is and how it is used. In turn, they
will be more observant the next time they go out on a call. A fire investigator
will benefit from understanding, in detail, how insurance works in "following
the money" and how to involve insurance personnel in the fire investigation.
A police officer who may be called upon only to do interviews will benefit
from understanding the effect of evidence, both physical and documentary,
on the information he/she can obtain from a witness. Next time, the officer
may seek out this evidence and work in greater coordination with origin
and cause experts to formulate incisive questions involving it.
next time you sit down with interFIRE VR, select the topic with which
you are LEAST familiar. Work that topic thoroughly, beginning with the
Tutorial section(s) and then moving into the more specific articles in
the Resource File. If your interest takes your further, seek out a colleague
in this specialty and talk about how you, in your "normal role",
can be of more help in the area you have just learned about.
If you have
a more structured environment, such as an Arson Task Force, select a specialty
topic, like AK-9 Units, as the focus of the next meeting. Invite your
state or local dog team to participate. At the meeting, first review the
interFIRE VR material on this topic. Then, have your local dog team advise
other team members how they work, how and when to contact them, and what
each team member can do to increase the effectiveness of the AK-9 at the
scene. Similar presentations can be done on any area of fire investigation,
such as evidence (presented by evidence tech or lab personnel), insurance
(presented by an adjuster or an insurance investigator), and trial preparation
(presented by a prosecutor). Look through the Tutorial for ideas on topics
for themed presentations at your local meetings.
down" means exploring a single topic in depth, rather than surveying
across the breadth of a process. Pick a single topic in fire investigation.
Let's take accidental causes. Begin by viewing the tutorial section on
this topic ("Eliminate Accidental Causes"). Then, read all the
articles on accidental causes in the Resource File (select "Fire
Scene Examination", then "Origin & Cause Determination:
Accidental Fire Causes"). Here, you'll find specific information
on electrical systems, lightning, lamps, appliances, chimneys, heating
systems, spontaneous combustion, and human negligence. Read it. Then,
go to the Scenario.
the scene at 5 Canal Street by just trying to eliminate the accidental
causes. Focus only on this topic. Examine every outlet in the room of
origin. Examine all the appliances in the room of origin. Check the heating
system and electrical panel in the basement. Talk to the first-in firefighter
about his observations of how the fire behaved. Ask the residents about
flammable materials they may have kept in the house and about the condition
they left the room of origin in. Even check the weather report for lightning
strikes-after all, it was raining that morning. Try specifying accidental
causes during the Scenario's origin and cause determination and work with
the feedback you get.
have finished the Scenario, find a way to apply your new knowledge to
the next scene you work. Seek out an electrical expert in your area and
work to bring him/her into your investigative team. Print out the Resource
File's "Fire Scene Electrical Checklist For the "Non-Electrical"
Engineer" by Kenneth Goodnight. Supplement this with own entries
items based on what you've learned and use it at your next scene. Approach
your next scene by thoroughly investigating every potential accidental
cause, documenting your examination, eliminating it where appropriate,
and calling in an expert when the examination is beyond your expertise.
down" approach will work for a variety of specific topics. Try:
- use of
the AK-9 unit
- fire patterns
and fire dynamics
with professionals at the scene
on narrow areas will improve your specific knowledge of that area and
will allow you to see a scene from a variety of perspectives and manage
more angles when you go out on your next call.
Set up a
special event for your local professional association, task force, police
department, or firehouse. Have the group work the interFIRE VR scenario
prior to the meeting, either individually or as a team. Then, divide into
three teams or individuals: prosecutor, defense counsel, and expert witness(es).
Have the prosecutor and defense counsel each prepare an opening argument
for the case at 5 Canal Street, including who is being charged with the
crime and laying out the evidence against that person. Ask a local prosecutor
or attorney to act as judge and present the arguments in a mock trial.
Then, call the expert witness(es) to testify on the case. Afterwards,
debrief the exercise, evaluate the arguments and the presentations, as
well as the testimony given. If a more elaborate presentation is possible,
consider assigning people to play key witnesses in the case, including
the defendant. This exercise will give investigators and first responders
a better appreciation of how these cases are presented in court and how
the fire investigation will be scrutinized at trial.
If a full
trial isn't practical for you, set up mock depositions on interFIRE VR
with a local prosecutor. Work the scenario before you meet with the prosecutor
and then show your case file on the computer to the attorney. Discuss
the case and what would be an issue at trial. Then, conduct a mock deposition
on the case where you are the expert witness, first with the attorney
acting as a prosecutor and then as defense counsel. This exercise will
help you sharpen your testifying technique.
VR to your toolkit for your town's next fire prevention event. The virtual
reality house in the scenario provides an excellent opportunity to talk
through the points of fire prevention using a real house as an example.
Kids will love the Scenario's "game" aspect and, in the process
of walking through 5 Canal Street, you can point out fire prevention information
in a very real context. Show kids how the closed bedroom doors in the
upstairs hallway stopped the fire, smoke and heat that devastated the
upstairs bathroom. Show them the smoke layer in the living room using
the soiled wall next to the stairs and how the air at the bottom stayed
breathable-which is why they need to crawl out of a fire. Use the space
heater close to the couch and the extension cords running across the floor
to demonstrate fire hazards in the home. Show them the AK-9 unit and explain
how dogs work at a fire scene. Get the kids involved in wandering through
the house in the VR and ask how they would have escaped this fire if they
had been in a bedroom upstairs, a bedroom downstairs, or in the kitchen.
Discuss the best places in this house for fire alarms and fire extinguishers.
Use the diagram to show kids how to plot an escape route out of this house.
In short, apply the many aspects of fire prevention to this real home
at 5 Canal Street so kids can learn better how to fire-prepare their own
presentation, let the kids play with the software on the laptop. Show
them how to move around the VR and collect evidence. Explain to them what
fire investigators do and how they do it and why they are important to
fire safety. Inspire the next generation to go into the public service
of keeping all citizens safe from fire.