In 1997, two investigators working at a fire scene in DuPage County,
Illinois, started talking about the low number of arson cases that were
actually prosecuted in their jurisdiction. They both knew that there
were many more instances of arson than were being put through the court
between Detective Dennis Rogers of the DuPage County Sheriff's Office
and Special Agent John Gamboa of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
Firearms (ATF) was the genesis of the DuPage County Fire Investigation
Task Force. The task force is made up of representatives of all the
fire and law enforcement agencies in DuPage County, as well as the ATF,
the Illinois State Fire Marshal's Office, the State Attorney's Office,
the private sector, and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).
the task force was created, however, two years of leg work had to be
done to convince local, state, federal, and private-sector authorities
that such an entity was needed.
the 1997 DuPage County fire, Gamboa and Rogers did some research of
their own and discovered some startling statistics. Using the National
Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) database and information from
the state fire marshal, they determined that a number of arson cases
were going unreported or undetermined annually and only three to five
cases were being prosecuted on average every year.
the years of 1995, 1996, and 1997," says Rogers, "There was an average
of one arson fire per day in DuPage County. We realized we had a problem
that wasn't being addressed."
the state attorney's office gave for the low prosecution rate was the
inconsistency in the way different agencies and departments investigated
fire scenes. Because so many cases relied on circumstantial evidence,
the state attorney's office needed to bolster its prosecution with physical
evidence, which had to be collected in such a manner that it wouldn't
be thrown out during the trial. The inconsistencies in investigation
created questions about the strength of many cases and doubts as to
whether they would stand up in court.
to Rogers, there are 36 different fire departments, or fire districts,
in DuPage County, as well as 33 police departments, none of which worked
together on arson cases historically. Once a fire was determined to
be arson, the fire department's involvement ended, and law enforcement
took over the case.
department wouldn't even know the result of the case until they saw
it in the newspapers," Gamboa says. Obviously, something had to change.
and Gamboa started researching different task force operations across
the country. After looking into about a dozen, they chose the what they
believed to be the best elements for the DuPage County task force and
began to put them together in a plan. However, they soon realized that
they'd need the support of both the law enforcement and fire service
men began attending meetings of fire and police chiefs to find out how
they'd react to the idea of a mutual task force.
asked the fire chiefs what they'd like to see in a task force," says
Gamboa, "the two responses were 'viable training' and 'cooperation with
the police department.'"
chiefs came on quickly because they're used to working under mutual
aid," says Rogers.
chiefs were hesitant, however, primarily because they didn't want the
feds coming in and taking over the investigation. Gamboa realized that
he needed someone who was respected by both law enforcement and the
fire service to support the idea and promote it with both groups. The
ideal person was someone in the state attorney's office, since both
groups had to interact with this agency on a regular basis.
and Gamboa approached the state's attorney, he was skeptical about the
statistics they brought him.
his own people review them," Gamboa says. "Then he came back and admitted
that there was a problem. He said he would back the task force 100 percent.
He went to the chiefs with this support."
attorneys are now assigned to the task force and attend training along
side all the other investigators.
type of support, the concept for a multijurisdictional task force started
to take shape.
have every police and fire chief supporting us and working together,"
Rogers says. "This is the first time that they've had the chance to
work together on such a large scale, and they're meeting and forming
friendships as a result."
the advantages that Rogers had is that he's not only a detective in
the DuPage Sheriff's office, but he's also a third-generation firefighter
in his hometown volunteer fire department. This allows him to understand
how each agency operates and how best to bring them together.
departments were very surprised at the knowledge that the fire service
has about arson and fire investigations," Rogers says. "The only way
it works is to have both agencies working together."
As a result
the task force, which became operational on September 1, 1999.
component of the task force was training. "Everyone wanted training,
but any training we put on had to be sanctioned by a governing body,"
said Gamboa. "If ATF was in charge of the training, it could cause problems
because of the perception that the feds were running everything."
next step was to find such a governing body. In Illinois, fire investigators
must undergo training provided by the University of Illinois Fire Service
Institute in Urbana. This seemed like a natural source for the training,
so the task force approached Investigations/Prevention Program Director
Terry Smith-despite the fact that the proposed task force didn't have
a budget and the institute normally charges for the training it provides.
saw that the training program was innovative... so they donated their
training to us," Rogers says.
the program outlined for the task force and determine the program's
made up of a cross-section of people, among them two ATF Certified Fire
Investigators (CFIs), professors from the University of Illinois, the
state attorney, private attorneys, and personnel from the fire and law
a different topic each month with a different presenter," Smith says.
Topics include interviewing, evidence collection, and fire science.
now, we're going through NFPA 921, Guide to Fire and Explosion Investigations,
and when we've completed that, we're going to move onto other texts,
such as Kirk's Fire Investigation."
of the task force has been given a copy of NFPA 921; NFPA 1033, Professional
Qualifications for Fire Investigators; and Kirk's Fire Investigation.
They've also received copies of interFIRE VR, an interactive, computer-based
training tool developed by a public-private partnership that included
ATF, NFPA, the United States Fire Administration (USFA), and American
Re-Insurance. InterFIRE VR covers the concept of the team approach around
which the task force is centered, as well as interview-driven investigations.
to the monthly training programs, the students must participate in an
independent study program, which Smith estimates takes about six hours
to complete. Each student is also given a study guide, and material
from the study guide, references, and material presented by the guest
lecturer are incorporated into the test they must pass to complete the
program. The exam consists of 25 to 40 multiple-choice questions.
who don't pass the exam," Gamboa says, "are allowed to take it a second
time. If they still don't pass, they're placed in an inactive status
and given a chance to study and retake it one more time. If they fail,
then they're dropped from the task force."
of the training is to ensure that everyone who participates in the task
force is certified to Illinois standards as a minimum. Many of them
already are, according to Smith.
striving toward members being able to achieve International Association
of Arson Investigators (IAAI) CFI certification," he says. The current
testing system helps the students obtain points that can be applied
towards their IAAI certification. In addition to the classroom training,
students have the opportunity to conduct live burns. Assisting in this
are two fire protection engineers from Gage-Babcock, Jerry Schultz and
the announcement in the newspaper," says Schultz, a principal with Gage-Babcock,
"and we thought it would be a good thing for us to help with."
in which Gage-Babcock is helping is computer modeling.
a building, and we're modeling the fire so that the investigators can
understand the value of modeling," Schultz says.
the task force
was created to oversee task force operations. This governing board approves
the task force's operational protocols and assigns personnel to the
the protocols, the program developers realized that a more aggressive
investigative approach was needed during the suppression stage of a
fire if the task force were to gather the information the state's attorney's
office needed to prosecute arson cases successfully. It was important
to get on the scene quickly and begin interviewing witnesses in the
witness-driven interview process is very successful," Rogers says. The
first investigators can be on the scene within an hour of notification
and begin identifying and interviewing witnesses right away, while the
information is still fresh in their minds.
force isn't called out for every fire, though task force members generally
attend the more significant ones-in other words, the fires that are
more difficult to solve. Even so, the task force solves 40 percent of
means someone was arrested and successfully prosecuted," Rogers says.
This contrasts dramatically with national arson statistics, which indicate
that only 2 percent of all arson fires and 6 percent of fires confirmed
as incendiary by fire departments lead to arrest and conviction.
for this success is the make-up of the task force, which includes not
representatives of other organizations with a vested interest in reducing
the number of arson fires in DuPage County.
of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a not-for-profit organization
that serves as a central repository for information on insurance fraud,
also participate. The NICB's current representative is Special Agent
the task force operations by retrieving information from our questionable
claims database," Carli says. This database contains information supplied
by NICB's 1,000 member insurance companies from across the country.
Because Carli is part of the team, investigators can get access to this
information while the investigators are on the scene of a fire that's
just been suppressed. This has been a critical resource.
had to run this through ATF sources, it could take weeks or months,
perhaps, to gather the information," Gamboa says.
is able to look up information on the scene and give us a lot of intelligence
information within minutes to an hour or two," says Rogers. "It saves
a lot of legwork and steers us in the right direction."
each agency participating in the task force is already paying for its
investigators and detectives to work the fire scene, the task force
costs the organizations nothing.
of two people taking 10 hours to work the fire scene," says Gamboa,
"It might now take six people two hours. In addition, they can get an
accelerant canine team, a forensic accountant, and other resources at
no additional cost."
department and police department in DuPage County assigns personnel
to the task force, and each agency absorbs its own overtime costs.
"If a town
gives up one investigator, it knows it's going to get at least four
others coming into town when it needs it, which helped justify the cost,"
Rogers says. Each department and investigator is also responsible for
providing their own equipment.
up the task force, it was important to assure each agency that the task
force wouldn't take over a fire scene unless the agency requested it.
is still under the control of the original jurisdiction," Rogers says.
12 four-person teams throughout the county, which has been divided into
three sectors. Three teams, each composed of a team leader, two fire
investigators, and two police officers, are on call for two weeks in
a two-month cycle. When they're called to a scene, the team leader meets
of task forces such as this has been demonstrated in other locations
and explosives for ATF, ATF is involved in formal task forces in 16
to 1997, ATF was involved in the prosecution of 3,974 defendants as
In fact, task forces initiated 33 percent of ATF's arson criminal cases.
agency. It's not something that's driven out of Washington."
County, the task force has been activated 28 times since August 9, 1999.
Twelve, or 43 percent, of these fires were determined to have been arson.
Eight arrests have been made, and two more are pending.
statistics are encouraging, Rogers and Gamboa feel it's too early to
gauge the impact of the task force on arson in DuPage County, in part
because they believe arson fires are under-reported. To remedy this
and fire department in the county report its statistics directly to
the task force using the Fire Explosion Investigation Management System
(FEIMS) being developed by ATF and USFA. The Board hopes that this system
will allow investigators to develop a more accurate picture of fires
and arson in the county.
the best indicators of the DuPage County task force's success is the
fact that adjoining Kane County has announced that it will soon form
its own task force, modeled on DuPage's operations. Because of DuPage's
experience, the Kane County task force will be operational within six
months of inception instead of the two years it took to bring everyone
together in DuPage.
to the DuPage County task force-and those who had the vision to make
it became a reality-arson prosecutions in Illinois have begun to keep
pace with the incidence of arson throughout the state.
and suspicious motives remain the number one cause of property damage
due to fire in the United States. In 1998 alone, incendiary and suspicious
fires did $1.249 billion in direct property damage to structures and
vehicles, and this figure was 5 percent lower than the 1997 figure.
When outdoor fires and a proportional share of fires with unknown causes
are added, losses to arson or suspected arson typically total $2 billion
in a typical year, or roughly one of every four dollars lost to fire.
NFPA's analysis of fire causes with a series of special studies undertaken
by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), it's possible to estimate that
only 2 percent of intentionally set fires lead to convictions. DoJ studies
also suggest that most of those convicted of arson are sentenced to
less than two years in jail and that about a third of those convicted
receive no jail time at all. Once released, more than half who were
imprisoned will be rearrested, though not necessarily for arson, within
three years. In 1998, for the fourth straight year, juvenile firesetters
accounted for 52 percent of those arrested for arson.
County at a Glance
Area: 336 square miles (870 square kilometers)
Population: Approximately 1 million
Number of municipalities: 39
Total reported fires in 1999: 2,826
Incendiary fires in 1999: 250
Suspicious or undetermined
fires in 1999: 199
Accidental fires in 1999: 593
Total dollar loss in 1999: $12,608,691