In What Fire Scene Responders Need to Know in Tough Economic Times (Part 3), fire expert witness and Principal of Pyrocop Inc., Robert Rowe writes:
Another factor that can reduce the incidence of arson is ensuring that every suspicious fire is investigated. Ensuring that an investigator is called to investigate is the job of those who initially respond to fire scenes.
Fire Scene Responders (FSR’s) such as firefighters, police officers, emergency medical services personnel, and insurance personnel are typically the first individuals who walk into a fire scene. As such, they must have the necessary tools to properly identify indicators of a suspicious fire incident, develop a “gut feeling” that something is not quite right, and take the necessary steps to ensure that a qualified investigator is called to the scene as soon as possible.
Some of the most common indicators found at a suspicious fire scene may include:
Multiple fires and points of origin Trailers made from combustible material and/or ignitable liquids Lack of expected fuel loads or excessive fuel loads Unusual odors detected, such as gasoline, alcohols, and paint thinners in unexpected areas Burn injuries to suspect Incendiary devices, such as books of paper matches with cigarette remnants attached, candle wax, Molotov Cocktails (fire bombs), and artificial fire logs found in unlikely locations
A systematic and thorough evaluation of a fire scene upon arrival and after the fire is extinguished is critical to the overall investigation. Carefully developed protocols such as the National Fire Protection Association’s 921 Standard are used by professional fire investigators to determine origin and cause. It is the responsibility of FSR’s to make sure that investigative resources are used when appropriate.
As economic indicators continue to spiral downward and as individuals face desperate economic choices, the incidence of arson may increase. If this happens, fire scene responders should be identifying greater numbers of suspicious fires and investigators will find themselves busier than ever.