If the device did not activate, do not attempt to move it. This is a job for specially trained explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) personnel.
In addition to the above indicators, there is a full list in NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations to include: removal of the contents; replacement of stock or inventory; sabotage to fire protection systems; existing fire-code violations; crime concealment; or fires near service equipment or appliances. NFPA 921 will give fire officers a good foundation of the indicators of an incendiary fire.
Fire investigators should be dispatched on the report of a working fire (but follow your department’s guidelines). Legal problems associated with evidence collection can be avoided by fire department personnel by safeguarding and preserving the evidence at the fire scene. The fire department must maintain control of the building or area until the investigator arrives and requests assistance from the police department for scene security. The fire officer should limit all access to the area of origin to members who need to be there or the member standing fire watch. Occupants and non-fire personnel should not be allowed in the structure or area until approved by the fire investigator. Fire officers need to make an effort to protect and preserve the evidence even if they have to stop their entire operation. Make sure to leave the evidence where it was found, cover it with Visqueen and tape off the area with fire-line tape. A good idea is to issue your company officers digital cameras so they can take pictures while protecting evidence.
Press Release by Fire Officers
All fires are traumatic and devastating events that invite a great deal of attention. The media will be on the scene and want to get a statement from fire department personnel, especially if the fire is a large dollar loss or if death or injury has occurred. Make sure as a company officer, you direct all questions to the Incident Commander or Public Information Officer (PIO). Be careful not to put out the wrong information. Statements like, “The fire does not appear to be suspicious at this time” should not be used. If it turns out to be an incendiary fire, you may have to explain that statement in court. Try to use statements such as, “The cause of the fire is under investigation by the fire investigation unit or fire marshal.”
The fire officer has tremendous responsibility at a working fire. There are a number of tasks that need to be completed. The identification of the indicators of the incendiary fire is one of them. Remember, rapid extinguishment of the fire protects and preserves evidence. Fire officers should keep alert and protect any evidence found on the scene. If the investigator is not dispatched on the report of a working fire, contact the fire investigator as soon as you start overhaul operations or start to find any indicators of an incendiary fire. Remember, if you find a device that has not activated, do not touch it — call the EOD. Contact your local fire investigator and ask questions about fire investigations. I’m sure the investigator will have no problem with setting up an awareness-level training for your department.
- NFPA 921, Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations. 2008 ed. Quincy, MA: National Fire Protection Association, 2008. Print.
- Norman, John, Fire Officer's Handbook of Tactics. Tulsa, OK: PennWell, 2006. Print.
- Firefighter's Handbook: Essentials of Firefighting. Clifton Park, NY: Delmar, Cengage Learning, 2008. Print.
ROBERT DISBROW JR. is a 21-year veteran of the fire service. He is a career firefighter/investigator with the City Of Bayonne, NJ, Fire Department and also conducts origin and cause investigations for a forensic engineering firm based in New Jersey. He is a life member of the Laurelton Fire Co. # 1 and a fire commissioner for the Howell Township Fire District # 1. He holds an associate degree in fire science and is a certified fire and explosion investigator (CFEI). He is also certified as a fire inspector, hazardous material specialist, fire instructor and juvenile firesetter intervention specialist and has been investigating fires for the past 15 years. He can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com.