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interFIRE VR

Written by:
Ed Comeau
USA 1-413-323-6002 (tel)
1-413-323-5295 (fax)
reprinted with permission from the
NFPA Journal (Volume 94 No. 5) ©2000 NFPA
All rights reserved

One of the most innovative and cutting-edge training tools for fire investigators was released in March 2000.

An interactive, CD-based training program, interFIRE VR, took three years to create. It's the result of a cooperative public-private partnership among NFPA, ATF, American Re-Insurance, and the United States Fire Administration, as well as noted experts from a variety of other organizations.

The result is a training tool unlike any ever seen in fire investigations.

Through virtual reality, the software creates a fire scenario on a computer screen through which the investigator can move anywhere through the burned structure, picking up objects to inspect them, taking photographs, interviewing witnesses, and calling in a canine team. In this fashion, the investigator can conduct a complete fire scene investigation, then "make the call" at the end. A virtual prosecutor will evaluate the evidence to determine whether it can support the cause-and-origin determination and evaluate the investigator's performance.

This is only part of the interFIRE VR, however. Accompanying the scenario is a broad-range eight-module tutorial developed by experts in the field. These include "Before the Fire;" "Roll-Up;" "Preliminary Scene Assessment;" "Processing the Scene;" "Insurance Investigation;" "Follow-Up Investigation;" and "Trial Preparation." Each module can stand alone, allowing the investigator to focus on areas in which they may need additional information.

The third component of the package is a resource file, containing a wealth of information relating to fire investigations, ranging from evidence collection techniques to insurance forms. Developers obtained the information from a broad range of publications and books, offering the user a selection of best practices.

Because the development team realized that changes occur regularly, it developed a web site,, to support the program. The entire resource file is on this web site and is frequently updated. The site also contains bulletin boards where investigators can post questions or answer those asked by their peers.

ATF provided the funding for interFIRE VR and made available numerous agents and experts to help develop the product. The bureau is also funding the interFIRE VR website. ATF is distributing copies of interFIRE VR, free of charge, to law enforcement agencies throughout the United States, and the USFA is distributing copies to the fire service. To obtain a copy, visit the interFIRE VR web site at

Ed Comeau is the principal writer for, a technical writing firm. He is the former chief fire investigator for NFPA and has worked with ATF on a number of incidents. He has been closely involved in the development of interFIRE VR from its inception and is a member of its web site editorial review board.


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