Donahue, Michael L. The fire department's role in arson detection. National
Fire & Arson Report. Vol 12 No 2 (June 1994). p 12-13+
Abstract: This article discusses the role that the first responding
fire fighters can play in fire investigations.
Arson is a large part of the annual toll of fires. Unfortunately, the
resources that fire departments are able to dedicate to arson investigation
is limited, thereby reducing the potential for the successful prosecution
of arsonists. Fire investigators must be selective in the fires that they
investigate simply because they have a limited number of investigators available.
A critical component to an effective investigation can be the first arriving
fire fighter and fire officer. There is a great deal of information that,
if they are observant, can be relayed to the fire investigator. This information
includes items such as what was on fire, where was the fire, what was the
color of the smoke and flames, any unusual odors, how did they gain entry
and where, and were there any separate fires.
Contrary to what many people think, there is a great deal of evidence
remaining after a fire. This evidence can be lost or destroyed if overly
aggressive overhaul is carried out. If fire fighters are trained and aware
that they should limit their overhaul, it may be possible to preserve the
scene until the fire investigator arrives.
Since the fire investigator is often called later in the incident, it
is critical that custody of the scene be maintained until he or she arrives.
This is important in preserving a chain of custody if the fire should be
determined to be incendiary and evidence needs to be introduced in court.
Fire fighters are often given some training in fire investigation during
their recruit class, but ongoing training throughout their career is not
as frequent. It would greatly help the investigator if fire personnel received
refresher training. The following are some suggested guidelines for them
to consider when responding to a fire: weather conditions; people and automobiles
leaving the scene; was the building occupied; condition of doors and windows;
how was entry made; were there any coverings on the windows; were the suppression
or detection systems impaired; had the utilities been tampered with; were
any statements made by people on the scene; were there any obstructions,
such as furniture; were any appliances, furniture, etc. missing; location
Additional valuable information includes the location of the fire; the
fire behavior; its color; location of multiple fires; and fire spread.
The fire fighter can be a valuable asset in helping the fire investigator
obtain critical information that can ultimately result in increases in arrests,
prosecution rates and reductions in property damage, injuries and lives