Hewitt, Terry-Dawn. NFPA 921: Its Role in Fire Loss Litigation. Fire
and Arson Investigator. Vol. 46, No. 3 (March 1996), p 6-11.
Abstract: This article contains a description of the NFPA 921
and its role in litigation. The author outlines rules governing use of expert
evidence and authoritative treatises in court, both in the United States
and Canada. Finally, some practical advice for fire investigators and other
experts is offered.
The National Fire Protection Association's Guide to Fire and Explosion
Investigations is known as the NFPA 921. The first edition was released
in 1992 and has since been updated with changes and new chapters. Via the
NFPA Standards-Making System, the NFPA 921 will continually be updated,
and there are plans to include such topics as investigation of wildland
fires and use of accelerant-detection canines.
The purpose of the NFPA 921 is to introduce definitions, concepts and
theories, and to outline the many steps in the investigation of a wide range
of fires. It is used by both public and private sector employees who are
responsible for fire investigation, and to that end, it recommends practices
for safe and systematic investigations. While the NFPA 921 has been praised
for its usefulness to investigators, it has also been employed as a weapon
In some courtrooms, the NFPA 921 has been used as a "standard"
instead of as a guide. Consequently, investigators who testify in court
are held to its guidelines. If strict compliance cannot be established,
the adept litigator might claim lack of professionalism in the investigation,
thereby opening the doors for challenging the investigatorís conclusions.
The author maintains that success in fire litigation rests upon the strength
of the evidence and the effectiveness of expert witnesses. Accordingly,
readers are referred to the NFPA 921 which contains the guidelines for proper
investigative technique. Mastering the information contained therein is
highly recommended. The article concludes with a detailed explanation of
the foundations of expert evidence as well as the use of authoritative treatises
in the courtroom.
For more information, contact:
International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI)
300 Broadway Suite 100
St. Louis, MO 63102-2808