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Jones, Jon C. Facing up to 921. Fire Chief. Vol 40 No 7 (July 1996). p 40-43.

Abstract: The author discusses how NFPA 921, Guide to Fire and Explosion Investigations has been changing the practices used in the fire investigations field. This document has served to replace many of the "rules of thumb" that have been passed down from one fire investigator to the next with validated, scientific concepts.

NFPA 921 is now in its second edition. NFPA 921 is developed by a technical committee of volunteers from a broad spectrum of interests, and include both the private and public sector. The document is comprised of 19 chapters and provides a broad overview of the fire investigations body of knowledge. These include basic fire science, safety, origin and cause determination, explosions, electricity and fire, motor vehicle fires, incendiary fires and appliances.

This document created substantial controversy in the fire investigation and legal community. Opposing lawyers were using the concepts outlined in NFPA 921 against investigators on the stand who were not familiar with its contents. The opposition would also call into question the qualifications of the fire investigator, based on information contained within NFPA 921, or NFPA 1033 Professional Qualifications of Fire Investigators.

One area that NFPA 921 had significant impact was in identifying a number of misconceptions that investigators had been using in cause and origin determination over the years. These include alligator char, spalling of concrete, collapsed furniture springs, burn holes in floors, the width of "V" patterns, irregular burn patterns on floors, and misconceptions related to electrical fires.

Evidence handling is another area that is covered by NFPA 921.

The author stresses that NFPA 921 is not the bible, but is a guide to how to conduct a fire investigation. Suggested strategies for using NFPA 921 include knowing the document, improving your qualifications and being prepared, among others.

Jon C. Jones is a fire protection consultant based in Lunenburg, Massachusetts. Prior to starting his consulting business, he worked for NFPA as a staff liaison to the Professional Qualifications an Fire Investigations projects. He has been a volunteer firefighter on the Lunenburg Fire Department for 26 years. (Fire Chief profile)

For more information, contact:
Fire Chief
35 E. Wacker Drive, Ste. 700
Chicago, IL 60601-2198
Phone: (312) 726-7277

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