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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 by litigators.

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
Phone: 314-621-1966

 
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