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NFPA 921 Section 6-5
Specialized Personnel and Technical Consultants

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

6-5 Specialized Personnel and Technical Consultants. In planning a fire investigation, specialized personnel may be needed to provide technical assistance. There are many different facets to fire investigation. If unfamiliar with a particular aspect, the investigator should never hesitate to call in another fire investigative expert who has more knowledge or experience in a particular aspect of the investigation. For example, there are some experts who specialize in explosions.

Sources for these specialized personnel/experts include colleges or universities, government agencies (federal, state, and local), societies or trade groups, consulting firms, and others. When bringing in specialized personnel, it is important to remember that conflict of interest should be avoided. Identification of special personnel in advance is recommended. The following paragraphs list examples of professional or specific engineering and scientific disciplines along with areas where these personnel may help the fire investigator. This section is not intended to list all sources for these specialized personnel and technical consultants.

It should be kept in mind that fire investigation is a specialized field. Those individuals not specifically trained and experienced in the discipline of fire investigation and analysis, even though they may be expert in related fields, may not be well qualified to render opinions regarding fire origin and cause. In order to offer origin and cause opinions, additional training or experience is generally necessary.

6-5.1. Materials Engineer or Scientist. A person in this field can provide specialized knowledge about how materials react to different conditions, including heat and fire. In the case of metals, someone with a metallurgical background may be able to answer questions about corrosion, stress, failure or fatigue, heating, or melting. A polymer scientist or chemist may offer assistance regarding how plastics react to heat and other conditions present during a fire and regarding the combustion and flammability properties of plastics.

6-5.2. Mechanical Engineer. A mechanical engineer may be needed to analyze complex mechanical systems or equipment, including heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, especially how these systems may have affected the movement of smoke within a building. The mechanical engineer may also be able to perform strength-of-material tests.

6-5.3. Electrical Engineer. An electrical engineer may provide information regarding building fire alarm systems, energy systems, power supplies, or other electrical systems or components. An electrical engineer may assist by quantifying the normal operating parameters of a particular system and determining failure modes.

6-5.4. Chemical Engineer/Chemist. A chemical engineer has education in chemical processes, fluid dynamics, and heat transfer. When a fire involves chemicals, a chemical process, or a chemical plant, the chemical engineer may help the investigator identify and analyze possible failure modes.

A chemist has extensive education in the identification and analysis of chemicals and may be used by the investigator in identifying a particular substance found at a fire scene. The chemist may be able to test a substance to determine its chemical and physical reaction to heat. When there are concerns about toxicity or the human reaction to chemicals or chemical decomposition products, a chemist, biochemist, or microbiologist should be consulted by the investigator.

6-5.5. Fire Science and Engineering. Within the field of fire science and engineering, there are a number of areas of special expertise that can provide advice and assistance to the investigator.

6-5.5.1. Fire Protection Engineer. Fire protection engineering encompasses all the traditional engineering disciplines in the science and technology of fire and explosions. The fire protection engineer deals with the relationship of ignition sources to materials in determination of what may have started the fire. He or she is also concerned with the dynamics of fire, and how it affects various types of materials and structures. The fire protection engineer should also have knowledge of how fire detection and suppression systems (e.g., smoke detectors, automatic sprinklers, or halon systems) function and be able to assist in the analysis of how a system may have failed to detect or extinguish a fire. The complexity of fire often requires the fire protection engineer to use many of the other engineering and scientific disciplines to study how a fire starts, grows, and goes out. Additionally, a fire protection engineer should be able to provide knowledge of building and fire codes, fire test methods, fire performance of materials, computer modeling of fires, and failure analysis.

6-5.5.2. Fire Engineering Technologist. Individuals with bachelor of science degrees in fire engineering technology, fire and safety engineering technology, or a similar discipline, or recognized equivalent, typically have studied fire dynamics and fire science; fire and arson investigation, fire suppression technology, fire extinguishment tactics, and fire department management; fire protection; fire protection structures and systems design; fire prevention; hazardous materials; applied upper-level mathematics and computer science; fire-related human behavior; safety and loss management; fire and safety codes and standards; and fire science research.

6-5.5.3. Fire Engineering Technician. Individuals with associate of science level degrees in fire and safety engineering technology or similar disciplines, or recognized equivalent, typically may have studied fire dynamics and fire science; fire and arson investigation; fire suppression technology, tactics, and management; fire protection; fire protection structures and systems design; fire prevention; hazardous materials; mathematics and computer science topics; fire-related human behavior; safety and loss management; fire and safety codes and standards; or fire science research.

6-5.6. Industry Expert. When the investigation involves a specialized industry, piece of equipment, or processing system, an expert in that field may be needed to fully understand the processes involved. Experience with the specific fire hazards involved and the standards or regulations associated with the industry and its equipment and processes can provide valuable information to the investigator. Industry experts can be found within companies, trade groups, or associations.

6-5.7. Attorney. An attorney can provide needed legal assistance with regard to rules of evidence, search and seizure laws, gaining access to a fire scene, and obtaining court orders.

6-5.8. Insurance Agent/Adjuster. An insurance agent or adjuster may be able to provide the investigator with information concerning the building and its contents prior to the fire, fire protection systems in the building, and the condition of those systems. Additional information regarding insurance coverage and prior losses may be available.

6-5.9. Canine Teams. Trained canine/handler teams may assist investigators in locating areas for collection of samples for laboratory analysis to identify the presence of ignitible liquids.

6-6.* Case Management. A method should be employed to organize the information generated throughout the investigation and to coordinate the efforts of the various people involved. This topic of case management is addressed in the context of major loss investigations in Chapter 16 of this guide. It is also the focus of some of the reference material listed at the back of this guide.

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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