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Geraci, Brian S. The fire is gone, but the hazards linger on. Fire Chief. Vol 41 No 7 (July 1997). p 51-52+.

Abstract: This article covers the hazards faced by the investigator on a fire scene after the fire has been suppressed. It discusses, as the author calls them "common sense precautions that investigators should take."

The first area discussed is the dangers presented by a building that has undergone fire attack. The risks include factors such as structural collapse and the establishment of collapse zones and safety work areas. The dangers posed by utilities is also mentioned. The weather must also be considered since it can have an impact on the stability of the structure, scene safety and impact the actual investigation itself.

The next area the author covers is the health hazards the investigator may be faced with. Hazardous materials that were on the scene and exposed to the fire, or hazardous materials created by the fire can create inhalation, ingestion, injection or absorption-type dangers.

Based on the size-up done by the fire investigator, respiratory protection may be called for. Ongoing air monitoring is also necessary in conjunction with respiratory protection.

How to control the potential from exposure through ingestion, injection and absorption are also discussed in the article. These include decon, proper hygiene and protective clothing.

Several standards address the procedures for protecting personnel at such scenes. These include NFPA 472, Professional Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials Incidents and OSHA 29 CFR 1910.120 (need title).

Another health hazard discussed is that of investigator fatigue.

The final area covered is that of Physical Hazards. The scene could have plenty of other hazards such as confined spaces, limited visibility, and traps set by the arsonist. The author discusses some methods for improving the safety level by procedures such as having two people conducting a scene investigation and personnel accountability systems. Reference are made to NFPA 921, Guide to Fire and Explosion Investigation, Chapter 10, "Safety," where these issues are covered.

The proper type of protective clothing is listed. This includes basic items such as hard hats or helmets, eye protection, gloves, boots, coveralls. This ensemble may have to be added to, based on additional hazards identified and the weather conditions. Consideration must be given to conducting decon on the clothing following the investigation to avoid spreading any contaminants. Personnel should thoroughly clean and wash themselves, too.

Brian S. Geraci, a 20-year veteran of the fire service, is a district chief and assistant fire marshal of the Montgomery County (Md.) Department of Fire and Rescue Services. He is a past president of the D.C.-Maryland chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators.

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

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