The Arson Problem
There are approximately 40 new arson cases per day in Canada. Arson is the second leading cause of fire related deaths with deaths caused by the improper disposal of smoking material being number one. According to NFPA it is estimated that in 2011 approximately 30,500 incendiary structure fires occur in the USA resulting in 315 civilian deaths and 860 million in property related damages. Approximately 75% of these arsons originated outside of a structure. In 2005 the UK reported 67900 arson related fires to primary residences, 41400 vehicle fires and 533 school fires.
Approximately 17,500 vehicle fires occured in the USA last year with approximately 139 million in direct property damage. It is estimagted at that 9% of all vehicle related fires are incendiary in nature.
Although there were approximately 12400 arson related cases tried in the courts in 2010 there was an incredibly low conviction rate of only 2%. The statistical probability of an arsonist being successfully tried and convicted in criminal court is about 1%. This means 99% of arsonists are getting away with it.
Published Books and Standards
There are several publications of note that can be useful sources of information for those looking to expand thier knowledge of fire investigation procedures, methods and best practices. The following list is provided for reference but is by no means an exhaustive list. We will make an effort to add to this as time allows so you may want to check back. Alternatively, please feel free to assist us by suggesting other books to list here to our webmaster.
NFPA 921 describes in detail the scientific method to apply in fire and explosion investigations. Public and private professionals have long seen NFPA 921 as a valuable resource in the field and in training. It’s also becoming increasingly relevant in court, where the document is used to evaluate the reliability of fire investigations in both civil and criminal trials.
- Changes in the 2017 edition reflect user needs in a challenging field.
- Chapter 1 was revised to support Fire Marshal and Fire service organizations in the completion of reports from the National Fire Incident Report System (NFIRS). These reports were being misapplied and compared to Fire Investigation Reports during courtroom testimony. The committee added to scope of NFPA 921 to distinguish an NFIRS Report from a Fire Investigation Report and identified one should not be used in lieu of the other, especially when NFIRS are outside the scope of NFPA 921.
- Chapter 8, Fire Protection Systems, was renamed Active Fire Protection Systems since passive systems are addressed in Chapter 7, Building Systems. New images and illustrations were added based on NFPA 72®: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code® and the Fire Protection Handbook.
- Updated Chapter 16, Documentation reflects technology breakthroughs in the areas of digital photography and 3D scanning.
- Chapter 18, Origin includes the concept of origin matrix addressing the impact of ventilation on origin determination.
Be better prepared to conduct even the most complex investigations safely and provide more accurate, reliable conclusions with help from the experts. Developed jointly by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA®), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI), the 5th edition of Fire Investigator: Principles and Practice to NFPA 921 and NFPA 1033 helps you address every aspect of the investigation process.
- The 5th edition of this highly regarded resource:
- Spans the entire 2017 edition of NFPA 921: Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations
- Addresses all of the job performance requirements in the 2014 edition of NFPA 1033: Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator
- Solidifies your understanding of these essential documents to help you apply rules correctly for top performance on the job
- Meets the course outcomes of the National Fire Academy’s Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) associate-level Fire Investigation I and Fire Investigation II courses
- Is packaged with Navigate 2 Advantage Access which unlocks a complete eBook, Study Center, homework and Assessment Center, and a dashboard that reports actionable data
NFPA 1033: Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator, 2014 Edition identifies the minimum job performance requirements necessary to serve as a fire investigator in both the private and public sectors. It applies to all fire investigations — including outside, vehicle, and other fires that are not structural.
- Among significant changes to the 2014 edition:
- Requirement that the investigator shall have and maintain at a minimum an up-to-date basic knowledge of requisite topics beyond the high school level, but not necessarily a post-secondary education level.
- The list of knowledge criteria has been expanded to include fire protection systems; evidence documentation, collection, and preservation; and electricity and electrical systems.
Even though ignition is the most important event in the course of a fire (no ignition: no fire), up until now there has not been a handbook devoted to this vital safety topic.
The Handbook is a massive resource, consisting of 1116 pages, tightly set in a 2-column, 8.5″ x 11″ (215 x 280 mm) format. The book includes 627 black-and-white figures, 447 tables, and 140 color plates. The Handbook is divided into two main sections: Chapters 1 through 13 include presentations of the fundamental principles of ignition sources and of the response of ignitable materials to heat or energy in various forms. Chapters 14 and 15 constitute an “encyclopedia of ignition,” containing extensive information on individual materials, devices, and products. Chapter 14 comprises alphabetically-arranged narrative descriptions of ignition properties and hazards for substances ranging from “Accelerants in incendiary fires” to “Zirconium.” Chapter 15 contains database tables giving information on 473 pure chemical compounds and over 500 commercial or natural products, including such substances as dusts, fuels, lubricants, plastics, and woods.
This resource describes a completely new approach for reconstructing fire scenes that blends the principles of fire protection with forensic and behavioral science. Fire scene reconstruction is based primarily upon physical evidence of burn patterns on the remnants of structures and vehicles. This book highlights the need for investigators to go beyond burn pattern analysis to also include physical evidence from pre- and post-fire human activities.
In addition, Forensic Fire Scene Reconstruction contains information detailing the following:
- Identifiable fire pattern damage
- Human factors
- Physical forensic evidence of human activity
- Application of the scientific method based upon relevant scientific principles and research
This manual is appropriate for fire and law enforcement investigators, prosecutors, and fire protection professionals.
Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation provides comprehensive coverage from historical, developmental, current, and practical perspectives. The author, uniquely qualified with years of experience in both on-site investigations and lab analyses, provides a resource that is unparalleled in depth and focus. The book is distinctive in that it not only discusses the appropriate techniques for fire scene investigation and the chemical analysis of fire debris, but it also focuses on the history of fire investigation and how the profession has evolved.
Specific topics of interest include:
- An interpretation of GC-MS data from ignitable liquid residues
- An explanation of fire analysis as it relates to chemistry, physics, and fluid dynamics
- A critical assessment of common fire investigation errors with a discussion of how these errors affect real cases
- A systematic examination of fire investigation mythology – how the myths originated and how they continue to be promulgated
- The presentation of landmark legal cases that affect the protocol of fire investigations
- The development of new tools used in investigations
- Professional interaction – how to deal with clients, expert witnesses, lawyers, and the courts
A thorough and accessible book, Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation provides not only the practical information necessary to conduct an effective inquiry but also with insight into the science, history, and theory behind what makes fire investigation a multi-faceted profession.
Taking the reader from the beginning stages of a fire investigation in evidence collection and evaluating a fire scene to the end stages of report writing and giving testimony, internationally recognized forensic scientist John DeHaan is joined by forensic fire engineering expert David Icove for the 7th edition of Kirk’s Fire Investigation. The model curriculum of the Fire Emergency Service Higher Education (FESHE) group serves as a basis for this important text which provides updated and expanded information on fire dynamics, ignition as well as brand new case examples. With appendices unique in content and focus including an Evidence Collection Kit and Incident Report Forms, this text serves as the keystone text in the field for both seasoned fire investigators as well as fire service professionals seeking the fundamentals and the most up-to-date information for the field of fire investigation.
Significance and Use
This practice is intended for use by any technical investigator when investigating an incident that can be reasonably expected to be the subject of litigation. The intent is to obtain sufficient information and physical items to discover evidence associated with the incident and to preserve it for analysis.
The quality of evidence may change with time, therefore, special effort should be taken to capture and preserve evidence in an expeditious manner. This practice sets forth guidelines for the collection and preservation of evidence for further analysis.
Evidence that has been collected and preserved shall be identified with, and be traceable to, the incident. This practice sets forth guidelines for such procedures.
Significance and Use
Persons engaged in forensic investigations are responsible for identifying significant data. They then analyze and correlate the data and report conclusions and opinions. These opinions should be supported by the data, reported in a form that is understandable to a layman familiar with the incident, and capable of being evaluated by knowledgeable scientists, engineers, or investigators.
This practice is intended to serve as a guideline for the scientific or technical expert in conducting an investigation, which includes analyzing and evaluating facts. In addition, this practice may assist others in understanding and evaluating the work performed. Refer to Practice E 1188for guidance pertaining to the actual collection of information and physical evidence, and Practice E 1020 for guidance regarding the initial reporting of the incident.
Significance and Use
This practice establishes those elements of the expert’s opinion report which will make the report understandable to the intended recipient and focus on the technical aspects germane to the purpose for which the opinion is rendered.
Significance and Use
This practice is intended to provide a complete written account of the case at hand in such a fashion as to allow another individual to interpret the particulars of the case.
This practice is suggested for documenting transitory conditions and data that may change shortly after an incident and be lost forever if not properly and promptly documented.
The primary use of this practice is to preserve pertinent information for use by technical experts and other technical personnel who may be called upon to reconstruct the events surrounding the incident.
Fire & Arson Investigator Journal
As part of the membership benefits of the IAAI, you get a subscription to the Fire & Arson Investigator journal. The journal is published quarterly – January, April, July & October.
The Fire & Arson Investigator journal is the official publication of the International Association of Arson Investigators, Inc. The publication is solely an educational and advisory aid to members working to suppress the crime of arson and related offenses; and to assist in raising the level of expertise in fire investigation.
Articles herein express the views and opinions of the authors, which are not necessarily those of the International Association of Arson Investigators, Inc., or its editors. Editor reserves the right to accept or reject any article or advertisement submitted for publication.
An advertisement in the IAAI magazine does not constitute, and shall not be interpreted as an endorsement of the advertiser or the product. Advertisers shall not use the IAAI name or image in their commercial activities in any manner.
The Informer Newsletter
As part of your Chapter 15 membership benefits, you have access to all previous editions of The Informer newsletter. The Informer newsletter was previously the official printed publication of BC Chapter 15 IAAI. The newsletter was previously published quarterly – January, April, July & October until the fall of 2013. The previous newsletter editor was Paul McDonnell. As of 2013 the BCIAAI website has replaced the Informer as the tool used to keep members up to date on training opportunities within our area as well as serving as an educational and advisory aid to members working to suppress the crime of arson and related offences. No further printed editions of the Informer are presently planned. New articles are accepted for posting on the BCIAAI website. Th BCIAAI Executive reserves the right to accept or reject any article submitted for publication. All articles posted on our website express the views and opinions of the authors, which are not necessarily those of BC Chapter 15 of the International Association of Arson Investigators or its editors. An advertisement in The Informer newsletter does not constitute, and shall not be interpreted as an endorsement of the advertiser or the product. Advertisers shall not use the BC Chapter 15 IAAI name or image in their commercial activities in any manner.
Society of Fire Protection Engineers
The mission of Fire Protection Engineering is to advance the practice of fire protection engineering and to raise its visibility by providing information to fire protection engineers and allied professionals.Order a free subscription to Fire Protection Engineering.
The National Fire Investigator
The National Association of Fire Investigators was organized in 1961. Its primary purposes are to increase the knowledge and improve the skills of person engaged in the investigation and analysis of fire, explosions and arson, or the litigation that ensues from such investigations.
NAFI PROGRAMS…NAFI conducts training programs; publishes a periodic newsletter, The National Fire Investigator; sponsors scientific research in fire investigation science and technology; offers scholarships to college students; and sponsors the International Symposium on Fire Investigation Science and Technology.
Fire Insight Magazine
IFIRI provides education, training and research for the investigation and testing community and plans to offer meaningful certifications requiring structured teaching and high standards of conduct and objectivity. They have a free publication titled Fire Insight magazine.
To accomplish these goals IFIRI will teach members how to perform objective investigations, testing and research. Objectivity will be taught and the importance of first wanting to be objective will be emphasized.
Websites and Searchable Databases
There are a large number of websites and searchable databases that provide much more than just information. Many of these resources can be useful tools to the fire and arson investigator interested in gathering additional data specific to potential product failures and recalls or looking for online training courses or facts pertaining to case law that may be relevant to files they are working on.
INTERFIRE Online training www.interfire.org
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Searchable Recall Database http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prerel.html
Health Canada Consumer Product Safety Searchable Product Recall Database http://cpsr-rspc.hc-sc.gc.ca/PR-RP/home-accueil-eng.jsp
Detection of fire accelerants is the process that a fire investigator uses to determine if fire accelerants were used at a fire scene. This process involves a combination of both field work and laboratory analysis by fire investigators and chemists.
In order for a positive identification of a fire accelerant to occur both field work and laboratory analysis must take place. This is because when a fire accelerant is used only ignitable liquid residues (ILRs) remain at the scene. It is the chemists job to identify these ILRs and the investigators job to determine if they were used as fire accelerants or just present at the scene under normal circumstances.
In Canada there are two main testing laboratories used to test fire debris for the possible presence of ignitable liquids depending on whether the investigation is conducted for criminal or civil purposes.
RCMP Forensic Laboratory Services
The RCMP Forensic Science and Identification Services (FS&IS) is an integral part of National Police Services, with a mandate to provide quality investigative support services for front line policing. The Laboratory Services section provides the following analysis services that are relevant to arson investigations:
Trace Evidence Analysis
Physical evidence routinely examined includes: paint, fire debris, clothing and footwear, glass, fibres and textiles, safe insulation, and a wide range of commercial products. The examination of exhibits may be classified into two categories: the identification of an unknown substance; and the comparison of “known” and “questioned” exhibits. Services include:
- recovering, comparing and identifying non-biological trace evidence (paint, potential fire accelerants, glass, fibres and textiles, plastics, building products, safe insulation and commercial products);
- conducting physical matching of the seized materials;
- providing scientific and technical support to other forensic disciplines; and
- hosting and supporting the Paint Data Query (PDQ) database.
- analyzing pre- and post-blast samples to determine type of explosive;
- analyzing explosives ingredients and related materials;
- providing scene assistance including use of explosives detectors; and
- providing scientific and technical support to bomb disposal and other experts in the field.
This link provides a link to the RCMP website and Form C-414 – Request for Forensic Laboratory Analysis. This form may only be submited by an RCMP Police Officer that is conducting a public sector fire investigation.
The Actlabs Group of Companies provides contract analytical services covering all aspects of analysis from academic research applications to routine quality control functions. They provide services to many fields, including Geochemical, Petroleum, Industrial Minerals, Forensic, Pharmaceutical & Clinical, Environmental & Occupational Health, Agricultural and Materials Testing areas. These services are available to public and private sector fire investigators on a fee per sample basis.
Actlabs’ Forensic department is dedicated in helping clients with the investigation of fire losses. They believe in using the latest scientific methods coupled with direct customer service to give you the most defensible results. The following testing services are available:
- Ignitable Liquids
- THC in Plants
- Smoke/Soot Analysis
- Open Characterization & Unknown Analysis
In using the latest technology paired up with a very active research program, they have published several papers in the leading scientific journals and trade publications. These have incorporated research into several areas such as:
- vehicle fires
- better technology for the analysis of old, weathered or complex samples
- analysis to help determine the source of contamination from fire residues, smoke and soot
- sampling issues
- comparison of the K9 to laboratory capabilities
- GC/MS/MS – An important development in fire debris analysi
Office of the Fire Commissioner
To access the services of the Office of the Fire Commissioner, call 1-888-988-9488 or use the following link providing additional contact options including an email address:
The Office of the Fire Commissioner is the senior fire authority in the province with respect to fire safety and prevention. Services include administration and enforcement of fire safety legislation, training of Local Assistants to the Fire Commissioner, fire loss statistics collection, fire investigation, fire inspection, response to major fire emergencies, advice to local governments on delivery of fire protection services, public fire safety education and fire fighter certification. There are a variety of useful links to public education resources on the OFC website and it is worth a visit. Below is a small sampling of information of relevance to fire investigators:
- Local Assistant to the Fire Commissioner (LAFC) Introductory Course (online course). This course if available to fire service staff at no cost.
See Calendar of Events for next available LAFC training opportunity.
British Columbia Fire Service Training Standards
By Ministerial Order, effective January 1, 2003, the National Fire Protection Association training standards have replaced the British Columbia Fire Service Training Standards.
The British Columbia Fire Service Certification Program administered by the Office of the Fire Commissioner which was based on the now rescinded British Columbia Fire Service Training Standards is no longer in effect and is replaced by the certification to the NFPA standards issued by fire service training institutions who are accredited by IFSAC or ProBoard.
Those fire service members who have been certified under the BC Fire Fighter Training Standards by the Justice Institute of BC, Fire & Safety Division, may be eligible for NFPA certification subject to completing the bridging requirements.
For more information on receiving recognition under the NFPA certification, please contact the Justice Institute of BC, Fire & Safety Division directly on their website at http://www.jibc.ca/fire/index.htm.
Fire Investigation Firms in British Columbia
There are a number of firms that offer private fire investigation services in British Columbia. Those looking to use the services of any firm are encouraged to check to see if they are insured and if their staff have received appropriate training in accordance with NFPA 1033 standards.