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Lacy, Hunter B. Safety on the Fire Scene. National Fire & Arson Report. Vol. 13. No. 4 (December 1995). p 1-5.

Abstract: This article addresses the necessary precautions of investigating a fire scene, what protective garments should be worn by investigators and the various electrical and construction hazards that may arise.

The first few minutes on scene can be very informative. Make sure to perform a visual sweep and to view the structure from outside its boundaries. Notice the number of stories in the structure.

Next, choose the appropriate protective clothing and gear. Itís easier to remove what you don't need than it is to suffer the consequences of being unprepared.

Environmental hazards must be considered. Potentially toxic gases and vapors can remain in the air long after the fire has been extinguished. Try to identify them. Use a sensor to identify the toxic gases in the structure. Be prepared with respiratory gear. Also consider forcing fresh air into the structure, as the positive air pressure may lessen the irritants.

A newer aspect of investigations is the potential exposure to airborne and blood-borne pathogens. A self-contained breathing apparatus, protective clothing and prior knowledge of what might be present in the building will help protect investigators and allow them to achieve their investigative goals. Be aware that decontamination of protective clothing and any equipment is likely to be necessary. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can be contacted to render assistance at hazard scenes. The offering of hazardous materials certification to all origin and cause investigators is being considered.

Electrical and gas service are other hazards that must be considered. Confirm that service to the involved structure has been disconnected, and if possible, observe the actual disconnection. Also confirm disconnection of telephone and cable service to the structure.

As building construction becomes cheaper, structural hazards have changed. Begin your evaluation of the structure from the exterior. Consult a qualified code inspector to ascertain if a building is structurally sound for you to enter. Upon entering the structure, observe the damage overhead and be aware of potential falling objects and weak floors. Also be aware of trapped water in tubs, sinks or other containers that might cause a ceiling to collapse. Notice any other structural problems and create appropriately solid footing.

Lastly, in addition to your own safety, consider the safety of other individuals on the scene. Implementing strict security will protect unauthorized individuals and enhance the credibility of the investigation.

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