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Sources of Information For Follow-Up Investigation

compiled for interFIRE VR by Debra Hemmerling from "Motive, Means, and Opportunity: A Pocket Guide to Arson Investigation," (American Re-Insurance Co.), NFPA 921 (National Fire Protection Association), and "Management for Arson Prevention and Control" (US Fire Administration and National Fire Academy).

Information on Fires and Fire Investigation

Information on People

 Information on Property

Information on Businesses

Information on Fire and Fire Investigation


Fire Department Data

Fire departments maintain records on all important phases of their operations, including responses to fire incidents.

Data collected on each fire incident will include:

  • Time and date of the incident
  • Address.
  • Type and use of structure
  • Injuries/deaths
  • Owner information
  • Area of fire origin
  • Classification of fire ignition
  • Sprinkler/detector performance
  • Department personnel and equipment involved in suppression and incident command

Most fire departments keep additional records on each fire incident. Records may include the following.

  • "Run Sheet" - specifics of response versus pieces of apparatus involved, etc.
  • Dispatcher Log - Log or tape with E911.
  • Enhanced 911 (E911) systems - record of the telephone number and address where the call originated.
  • Officer reports - narrative reports of initial assessment, etc.
  • Company Officer/Firefighter reports - reports submitted by company officers or firefighters that records their observations and activities.
  • Other reports - including code inspections, licensing, smoke detector inspections, EMS, and other departmental activities concerning specific properties and/or individuals in their communities.

The fire department may also keep Fire Investigation Unit (FIU) files. These files maintain chronological files on investigations concerning specific fire incidents. The files contain:

  • Original witness statements and reports.
  • Photographs and negatives.
  • Scene diagrams.
  • Lab analysis records and associated materials.

Unit Managers may be able to find physical evidence on past fire/arson investigation cases (as well as other cases involving potential prosecutions, product liability, or personal liability) in the FIU files.

State Fire Marshal's Office

This agency has the responsibility of receiving fire incident data from fire departments. Their job is to compile the data, enter it into a database, analyze the information, and issue reports and advisories concerning trends.

Investigators from these units usually work in coordinated investigations with municipal fire and police officials. State Fire Marshal investigation files may contain comprehensive information and reports on criminal investigations or civil liability. Fire protection engineering files contain information on inspections and other fire code enforcement activities.

Their staff analysts can usually produce reported information in the form of numeric tables or charts that reflect recent and historic fire incident trend data.

From the fire marshal's office an investigator can obtain:

  • Record of fire inspections
  • Explosives and blasting permits
  • Various other licensing inspections
  • Fire code violations
  • Arrest warrants for Fire Code violations
  • Records of previous fires

The State Fire Marshal's Office may also offer special programs that have a potential value to an Arson Prevention and Control Unit, including:

  • Juvenile Firesetter Program
  • Underground Storage Tank Inspection (UST) Program
  • Marine Fueling Inspection programs
  • Bomb Technician (EOD) teams

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF)

Your local ATF office can provide assistance under certain circumstances.

  • ATF regional offices in most major cities have an arson group/task force designed to assist local and state fire investigation agencies with complex arson fraud investigations.
  • Each ATF arson group has one or more certified Fire Investigators whose function is to assist with origin and cause examinations.
  • ATF "National Response Teams" respond to major fires nationwide. These teams work in conjunction with local and state investigators and produce highly developed, multiphase investigations.
  • The ATF has three forensic laboratories specializing in analysis of evidence and each ATF arson group maintains an evidence room.
  • The ATF retains a staff of financial auditors who specialize in arson fraud investigations. These auditors may be available to provide assistance in the analysis of fire incident trends and other related data.
  • The ATF has an Intelligence Data Bank that keeps track of parts and materials used in fabricating clandestine explosive devices across United States. This computerized data bank operates on a "keyword" basis.
  • The ATF has an explosives technology branch that makes device determinations.
  • The ATF offers two-week schools for state and municipal fire investigators entitled "Advanced Arson for Profit" and "Advanced Cause and Origin/Courtroom Techniques."

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)

Organized in 1896 to: promote and improve the methods of protection and prevention; obtain and circulate information; and secure the cooperation of its members in establishing proper safeguards against loss of life and property.

The NFPA is responsible for the distribution of the National Fire Safety Codes, the National Electrical Code, and related materials. The Association has also developed and distributed a wealth of technical information, which has significant interest to the fire investigator.

Testing and Modeling

American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)

This scientific and technical society was formed for "the development of standards on characteristics and performance of materials, products, systems, and services, and the promotion of related knowledge." Many of these standards focus on acceptable fire-related test methods.

National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST)

NIST conducts tests, analyzes data, and conducts burns to gather information about how fire starts and burns. They are an excellent source of information on fire modeling, fire behavior, and pattern production.

Professional Organizations

National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI)

This association's primary purposes are to increase the knowledge and improve the skills of persons engaged in the investigation and analysis of fires, explosions, or in the litigation that ensues from such investigations.

International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI)

The purpose of the association is, through education and training, to strive to control arson and other related crimes in addition to providing basic and advanced fire investigator training. In addition to an annual seminar, there are also regional seminars focusing on fire investigator training and education as well as a quarterly magazine, "The Fire and Arson Investigator."

Society of Fire Protection Engineers

Organized in 1950, this society is a professional organization involved in the multifaceted field of fire protection. The society works to advance fire protection engineering and its allied fields and to foster fire protection engineering education.

Information on People

Municipal Government Sources

Municipal Clerk (records regarding municipal licensing, title searches, hidden ownership, liens, and assessments).

Municipal Health Department (records regarding birth and death certificates; health inspector records; and records of investigations related to pollution and other health hazards).

County Government Sources

County Recorder (records regarding real estate transactions; mortgages; certificates of marriage; marriage contracts; divorces; wills admitted to probate; official bonds; notices of mechanics liens; birth and death certificates; bankruptcy papers; and other such writings as required or permitted by law).

County Clerk (records regarding immigrant naturalization; civil litigation; probate and criminal records; and records of general county business).

County Coroner/Medical Examiner (records regarding the names or descriptions of the deceased; inquest dates; property found on the deceased; cause and manner of death; and documents regarding the disposition of the deceased).

State Government Sources

State Department of Transportation (records regarding motor vehicle registrations, driver's license testing and registration, highway construction and improvement projects).

State Treasurer (records regarding all state fiscal transactions).

State Department of Vital Statistics (records regarding births, deaths and marriages).

State Department of Revenue (records regarding individual state tax returns; corporate state tax returns; and past, present and pending investigations).

Other Sources

Financial Institutions (including banks, savings and loan associations, brokers, transfer agents, dividend disbursing agents, and commercial lending services) maintain records that serve as valuable sources of information.

Educational Institutions have records that can provide insight into a person's background and interests.

Utility Companies maintain extensive databases, particularly concerning their customers.


You can search several databases to assist in locating individuals, obtaining background information, and other information useful during an investigation.

The specific records and sources available through databases include:

  • The National Crime Information Center
  • Board of Probation records
  • Civil/Bankruptcy judgements
  • Credit Reporting agencies
  • FBI/Call identification/ Fingerprinting
  • Social Security number runs
  • Employment checks/Schools
  • Neighbors

One of the most widely used databases is "CDB Infotek"

This company's database and staff have access to over 2.5 billion public records and 1,500 other databases. They can quickly search and compile information on national, regional, and local public records.

Their "Info: PROBE" system scans databases in search of records that contain your specified criteria such as:

  • People locator
  • Individual backgrounds
  • Business backgrounds
  • Pre-trial preparation

Their "Information: ON-CALL" service involves use of a toll-free number and a researcher who will locate your information for you.

Their "Background: ON-LINE" system provides access to information for a given county, city, or nationwide and can provide details on an individual's background.

Another useful database is Lexis/Nexis

This news subscription service provides:

  • Articles dating back to the 1970's
  • People locator service


Municipal Government Sources

Municipal Assessor (records regarding property taxes, escalation of value of property and improvements, prior owners, plats or maps of real property including dimensions, addresses, owner name(s), and legal use of the building and its conditions).

Municipal Treasurer (records regarding names and addresses of property owners and taxpayers; legal descriptions of property; taxes paid or owed on real and personnel property; former property owner names).

Municipal Street Department (records regarding conduits; drains; sewers; utility conduits, correct street numbers; previous names of streets; abandoned streets and rights-of-way).

Municipal Building Department (records regarding building, electrical, and plumbing permits; blueprints and diagrams showing construction details; certificates of occupancy; housing code inspection files; certificates of compliance; rooming house licenses; and housing code violations.

County Government Sources

County Assessor (records regarding plats or maps of county real property - these include dimensions, addresses, owners, and taxable value).

County Treasurer (records regarding names and addresses of property owners and taxpayers; legal descriptions of property; amounts of taxes paid or owed on real and personal property; and all county fiscal transactions.

State Government Sources

Secretary of State (records regarding charters and annual corporation needs; annexations; charter ordinances of towns, villages, and cities; trade names and trademarks registration; and notary public records and U.C.C. statements).

Other Sources

Real Estate Industry keeps records of people and businesses who are selling or purchasing property, real estate offices often maintain extensive photo libraries of homes and businesses located in their sales territory. These photographs may sometimes be of interest to the fire investigator during an investigation.

Abstract and Title Companies contain useful records which include maps and tract books; escrow indexes of purchasers and sellers of real estate; escrow files containing escrow instructions, agreements, and settlements; and abstract and title policies.

Information on Businesses

State Government Sources

State Department of Regulation (records regarding names of professional occupation license holders and their backgrounds; results of licensing examinations, consumer complaints, past, present, or pending investigations; and annual charitable organization reports).

State Insurance Commissioner's Office (records regarding insurance companies licensed to transact business in the state; licensed insurance agents; consumer complaints; and records of past, present, or pending investigations).

State Department of Natural Resources (records regarding fish and game regulations; fishing and hunting license data; recreational vehicles license data; waste disposal and environmental protection regulations).


You can search for information concerning the nature of a business, its financial status and forecast, and other pertinent information.

A useful database for business searches is Dunn and Bradstreet

This service provides access to current financial information on businesses and organizations.

Its basic financial report contains company name, address, telephone number, history, Chief Executive/ Officer/ Director, financial information, banking, corporate information, location, type of facility and number of employees.

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