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NFPA 921: Section 6-1 through 6-2.7
Planning the Investigation

[interFIRE VR Note: Tables and Figures have not been reproduced.]

6-1 Introduction. The intent of this chapter is to identify basic considerations of concern to the investigator prior to beginning the incident scene investigation.

Regardless of the number of people involved, the need to preplan investigations remains constant. Considerations for determining the number of investigators assigned include budgetary constraints, available staffing, complexity, loss of life, and size of the scene to be investigated.

The person responsible for the investigation of the incident should identify the resources at their disposal and those available from outside sources before those resources are needed. It is their responsibility to acquire additional resources as needed. Assistance can be gained from local or state building officials, universities and state colleges, and numerous other public and private agencies.

The "team concept" of investigating an incident is recommended. It is understood that the investigator, at many incident scenes, may have to photograph, sketch the scene, collect evidence, interview, and be responsible for the entire scene investigation without other assistance. These functions and others described in this document should be performed regardless of the number of people involved with the investigation.

6-2. Basic Incident Information. Prior to beginning the incident scene investigation, numerous events, facts, and circumstances should be identified. Accuracy is important since a mistake at this point could jeopardize the subsequent investigation results.

6-2.1. Location. The investigator, once notified of an incident, should obtain as much background information as possible relative to the incident from the notifier. If the travel distance is great, arrangements may be required to transport the investigation team to the incident scene.

The location of the incident may also dictate the need for specialized equipment and facilities. (See 6-4.1.)

6-2.2. Date and Time of Incident. The investigator should accurately determine the day, date, and time of the incident. The age of the scene may have an effect on the planning of the investigation. The greater the delay between the incident and the investigation, the more important it becomes to review pre-existing documentation and information such as incident reports, photographs, building plans, and diagrams.

6-2.3. Weather Conditions. Weather at the time of the investigation may necessitate the need for special clothing and equipment. Weather may also determine the amount of time the team members can work an incident scene. Extreme weather may also require that greater safety precautions be taken on behalf of the team members, for example, when the weight of snow on a structure weakens it.

Weather conditions such as wind direction and velocity, temperature, and rain during a fire should be noted because all can have an effect on the ignition and fire spread.

6-2.4. Size and Complexity of Incident. The size and complexity of the incident scene may suggest the need for assistance for the investigator. A large incident scene area may create communication problems for investigators, and arrangements for efficient communications should be made.

The size and complexity of the scene will also affect the length of the investigation, and preparations may be needed for housing and feeding the team members. Generally, the larger the incident scene, the greater the length of time required to conduct the investigation.

6-2.5. Type and Use of Structure. The investigator should identify the type and use of the incident structure. The use or occupancy of the structure (e.g., industrial plant, chemical processing plant, storage warehouse, nuclear facility, or radiological waste storage) may necessitate special containment of debris, contamination, or radiation, including water run-off at the scene. Additionally, appropriate hazardous materials or contamination clothing, breathing apparatus, and other protective devices and equipment may be necessary to ensure safety at the incident scene. Conditions at certain scenes may be so hazardous that the investigators should work within monitored stay times.

Knowledge of the type of construction and construction materials will provide the investigator with valuable background information and allow anticipation of circumstances and problems to be encountered by the investigation team.

6-2.6. Nature and Extent of Damage. Information on the condition of the scene may alert the investigator to special requirements for the investigation, such as utility testing equipment, specialized expertise, additional staffing, and special safety equipment. The investigator may be operating under time constraints and should plan accordingly.

6-2.7. Security of Scene. The investigator should promptly determine the identity of the individual, authority, or entity that has possession or control of the scene. Right of access and means of access should be established.

Scene security is a consideration. If possible, arrangements should be made to preserve the scene until the arrival of the investigator(s). If this is not possible, arrangements should be made to photograph and document existing conditions prior to disturbance or demolition.

For more information, contact:
The NFPA Library at (617) 984-7445 or e-mail

Taken from NFPA 921Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations 1998 Edition, copyright © National Fire Protection Association, 1998. This material is not the complete and official position of the NFPA on the referenced subject, which is represented only by the standard in its entirety.

Used by permission.

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