Wolfson, Richard. Cause Determination: A Guide for Fire Investigators.
Firehouse. August 1995. p. 42+.
Abstract: All fire investigations should be conducted using a
systematic framework, adhering to established guidelines, and should be
conducted in an unbiased fashion with the sole intention of identifying
all existing facts to develop an opinion based on sound fire science principles
One factor is the documentation of a building's construction. A documented
building description should include the building's use (residential, commercial
or industrial), size, type of materials used in construction (wood-frame,
heavy timber, etc.), roof and siding materials and type of interior construction.
All rooms should be documented with the intention of determining pre-fire
conditions, room contents, housekeeping and presence of fuel loads (including
surface covering and carpeted flooring materials and furniture) and whether
or not they are consistent with the utilization of the structure.
The structure's utilities should be inspected including the supplier
of the service and inspection of electric service meters (manufacturer,
model and serial numbers). The electrical distribution system should be
inspected for its possible involvement. Distribution wiring should be identified.
Detailed inspection of the distribution panels should be performed and any
damage to electrical distribution should be documented. In addition, the
gas utility, its supplier and manufacturer should be noted. Also, the heating
system should be inspected in detail, including identifying the manufacturer
and type of primary heating system as well as the fuel type. Secondary heating
units should be inspected as well.
Fire safety systems should be documented; what type of alarm was present
and did it activate? Any intrusion alarm should be documented as well to
determine if the alarm was activated when the fire department entered. Presence,
location and access to any and all fire escapes should be noted.
Once the above documentation has been performed, the area of origin should
To determine the cause, debris removal and reconstruction are necessary.
These processes will help the investigator visualize the fire patterns.
Overhaul and removal should be supervised by the fire investigator if possible.
Any alterations and removal should be kept to a minimum during suppression
and overahaul. Any details regarding those procedures should be shared with
the investigator upon his/her arrival.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) classifies the causes
of fire in four categories: Accidental (not a deliberate human act), natural
causes (lightning, earthquake, wind), incendiary (set deliberately when
a fire should not have been set) and undetermined (cause cannot be proven).
The term "suspicious" is not an accurate description of a fire
Every fire investigation should be documented with photographs of the
interior and exterior of the scene. Step by step photos should be taken
of the reconstruction as well as the area of origin.
For more information, contact:
PTN Publishing Corporation
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Melville, NY 11747
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