and fire inspectorates are to investigate the adequacy of inter-agency
arrangements to combat arson and identify best practice and best value
in a joint thematic review. Mick Gardiner and Jim Munday comment on the
current state of fire investigation and training.
IN ITS 1988
report, the Working Group on the Prevention of Arson found that liaison
arrangements between agencies were generally good but that 'greater co-operation
and co-ordination' could improve the total effectiveness of action. The
Group recommended that consideration should be given to 'levelling up'
the standards of liaison between the police, fire and forensic services.
carrying out the current thematic reviews conclude that over the past
decade standards generally have improved or will they discover that in
some regions there has been little real progress? Those who come into
regular contact with scene investigators from each of the vanguard agencies
know both to be true.
Without doubt, the 1999 Home Office scoping study and Government announcements
have re-vitalised and re-focused efforts. Many brigades have already reviewed
their fire investigation policies and improved working practices. Most
appear to be participating in some form of inter-agency activity and some
have co-signed memorandums of understanding with the local police service.
But it is
not entirely good news. Few brigades appear to have taken up the 1988
recommendation to appoint at least one full-time fire investigation officer.
Nor has the report recommendation that the investigation and prosecution
of arson be given a high priority in the allocation of police resources
produced an adequate response. Resources have not matched the rise in
As the Arson
Control Forum considers the arguments concerning the fire service having
a statutory footing to carry out fire investigations (not crime investigations),
the matter of resources remains central to actual commitment. It would
appear that while some brigades have bolstered fire investigation support
structures, others are considering scaling them down.
those carrying out the reviews will take the opportunity to address and
remedy the issues identified in the recent scoping study, the 1988 report
and the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers' Association (CACFOA)
strategy report, published in December 1998.
In order to ensure that future directives are workable, it is important
that the inspectors are given a true picture. Without repeating the full
scoping study exercise, direct account must be taken of the views of those
who are at the sharp end - the scene investigators. For it is scene investigators
who endeavour to put the team approach into practice.
It is scene
investigators who, having spent much time at scenes and in statement and
report preparation, enter the courtroom as the impartial representatives
of their organisations. In addition to the proper testing of their evidence
by cross-examination, much may be made of ambiguous terminology and imprecise
fire reporting, such as 'doubtful origin' and percentage causes. Well-briefed
defence counsel, sometimes supported by experts of dubious provenance,
may attempt to undermine, or render inadmissible, scene investigators'
evidence by the misinterpretation (or cynical manipulation) of current
Home Office guidelines.
will be on their own in negotiating this minefield. It is best they are
Majesty's inspectors will undoubtedly build on examples of good practice,
it is equally important that local, regional and national structures are
put in place to identify bad practice and failures. It is vital that lessons
learnt are passed on.
Working Group rightly identified the development of effective fire investigation
strategies as the main driver of arson strategies. The foundation for
such strategies is the training of those responsible for carrying out
fire scene investigations.
of fire investigation training and inter-agency co-operation runs through
a number of Home Office publications, dating from the early 1980s. In
particular, the 1999 scoping study report encourages 'the recent emergence
of cross-service training courses'.
In the 1980s,
the training available was, with a few notable exceptions, inadequate
and outdated. Fortunately, thanks to the publication of the Principles
of Fire Investigation by Roy Cooke and Roger Ide1, and Kirk's Fire Investigation
by John DeHaan2, not all British investigators were tainted with many
of the myths and legends. Nonetheless, perhaps some veteran fire officers,
who were simply required to complete FDR1s (and their forerunner the K433),
might at times have been guilty of carrying out routine fire investigations
by simply 'kicking some ash'. One would hope that such practices have
organisations in carrying out policy and practice and best value reviews,
the first questions to be addressed include:
- what has
been done locally with the mountains of information gathered so far?
- how accurate
are the reports?
- what local
structures are in place for quality control?
is guilt to be attributed, then this does not rest solely with fire service
investigators and their managers. Just as crime prevention is a matter
for a number of agencies and the community at large, then so is fire prevention.
own sets of performance indicators and very stretched resources, can the
police service claim to have given fire investigation a high priority?
In the past two years there have been a number of events where very senior
police officers have openly admitted that in the past, arson, let alone
serious injury fires, has not figured highly on their local agenda or
the national police service agenda.
experiences, together with fire investigation training and other related
initiatives at home and abroad, demonstrate how much more there is for
everyone to learn.
courses, which have now been assessed and CPD validated by the Institution
of Fire Engineers, have been developed to suit the needs of junior and
more experienced fire and scenes of crime officers.
active involvement with the Forensic Science Working Party, which drafted
the level 4 S/NVQ referred to in the scoping study, and a teaching attachment
to the ATF National Academy in Georgia, USA, a 15-day advanced practical
fire investigation course has been organised.
year, experienced fire and scenes of crime officers attended the inaugural
advanced course at the Ministry of Defence police training centre in Essex.
Over a period of three weeks, students attended classroom sessions that
built on the foundation course topics.
and practical workshops covered scene management, information gathering
and witness skills, handling the media, courtroom techniques etc. Most
importantly, participants observed accelerated and non-accelerated fires,
investigated temperature-instrumented fires in authentically furnished
compartments, took part in practical exercises, investigated and documented
scenes, and each had their findings tested in a court environment.
the inter-agency theme and allowing the participants to work in small
syndicates, the course enabled investigators to return to their organisations
more proficient and assured in their own levels of professional competence.
programme of 3-day practical exercises, investigating and debriefing real
fire scenes is also being organised.
organised as partnership initiatives, are uniquely co-sponsored by major
insurer, Zurich, fire-protection product manufacturers, Cape plc and Rockwool,
forensic consultant, Hawkins and Associates, and other interest groups.
to national conferences and regional seminars, investigative interviewing
and courtroom skill seminars are being provided, designed specifically
for fire scene investigators. Also under development is a fire and arson
awareness programme for scientific support managers, senior detectives,
Crown prosecutors and insurance investigators.
with the recommendations of the scoping study and several key professional
bodies, the provision of knowledge-based exam options that draw upon modern
publications is under consideration. Ultimately, it is hoped that it will
be added as an option to the foundation courses.
knowledge-based examination at present is the Institution of Fire Engineers
(IFE) membership paper on fire investigation. This is being updated to
take account of the most recent texts and provides a good measure of understanding
of the basic underlying concepts.
Science Society Diploma in Fire Investigation, which is also under review,
requires a much higher level of understanding of the theory and techniques
involved. This qualification has often been perceived as difficult to
access but this is not necessarily the case. It is hoped that, in the
future, advanced course delegates will have the opportunity to gain some
additional classroom instruction to help them enter for the Diploma theory
and understanding are only part of what is required of a competent fire
scene examiner. There must also be sufficient levels of skill and application
to enable the correct conclusions to be reached. This was the starting
point for the Forensic Lead Body Working Party when drafting the proposed
S/NVQ Level 4 competency standards.
the fire service might remain committed to S/NVQ as a measure of competency
assessment, the recently formed Council for the Registration of Forensic
Practitioners (CRFP) has decided that the S/NVQ is not the most appropriate
designation for forensic scientists and crime scene examiners. Nonetheless,
the CRFP is committed to the concept of competency-based qualifications
and may well decide to use the draft proposals as a basis for its own
much of the advanced course components were designed around the draft
S/NVQ was so that provisional competency assessments could be offered.
Satisfactory workplace monitoring could then allow early accreditation
of individuals as competent fire scene examiners at Level 4 or its CRFP
equivalent. This would be the level at which most fire scene investigators
would be expected to operate.
the only external competency testing for fire investigators in the UK
is the second (practical) part of the Forensic Science Society Diploma.
The examination is set at a substantially higher level than would perhaps
be considered necessary for the majority of fire investigations, but the
qualification has great merit for those investigators regularly undertaking
the most complex and serious cases. Anyone achieving S/NVQ or CRFP accreditation
should consider moving on to the Diploma examination, if it is appropriate
for their responsibilities.
is needed on the ways in which theory and practical training fit together
and affect fire scene performance. A scheme has been proposed to the Forensic
Science Society, IFE and others as a starting point.
that the Home Office concept of staged response and actual practice within
the fire service, as well as the private sector, sit well with the idea
of having two or three-stage qualification and accreditation.
practice in the USA and elsewhere, demonstrates that local response levels
could be harmonised and co-ordinated with regional and national structures.
Earlier this year, each UK fire and police authority was provided with
complimentary copies of Inter-Fire, the virtual reality training CD-ROM,
and the Pocket Guide to Fire and Arson Investigation. Both of these American
initiatives were designed to encourage scene investigators to adopt a
systematic methodology, which is based upon the holistic approach and
the wider team concept.
If the inter-agency
approach is to be successful in the UK, one of the challenges for those
carrying out the thematic reviews and the respondents must be to encourage
and properly equip those carrying out investigations to compile accurate
and meaningful information. This will further both community fire safety
and arson prevention strategies. If each fire and fire-related crime is
regarded as a prevention failure, any fire investigator who simply 'kicks
some ash' has in some way failed to prevent future loss of life and/or
potential property loss q
R. and Ide, R., Principles of Fire Investigation, Institution of Fire
J., Kirk's Fire Investigation, 4th Edition, Prentice Hall