If You Are In The Fire Service You Are An Investigator - Part II

Rescue and extinguishment is your assignment but why not start thinking and acting like investigators if they were to advance the first line in.


The investigation found a man was paid to splash gasoline down the common corridor walls and floors as payback for a disagreement between two tenants. Surviving occupants stated they smelled gasoline, went to the common kitchen on the first floor, took pots of water and threw them on the gasoline to dilute it they went back to their rooms to finish playing cards and have another drink. No gasoline was ever detected by the crews advancing there lines into the fire. Why? Could be because everyone wore a mask or the product burnt off before the arrival of the fire units.

Only one positive hit came for gasoline out of approximately 18 samples sent to the lab. It came from under a piece of baseboard located in the common hallway by the kitchen. In this example, you arrive with fire showing from many areas. The experienced firefighter should have a question in his or her mind asking, what is making this fire burn so quickly? How did the fire get so advanced? Why are the occupants hanging out the windows or trapped on the back porches. Why were they not able to get out?

We should train our eyes to look in a wide angle view rather than tunnel vision. See the whole picture. Try to see all three sides if you can while you are pulling your line off the rig. Maybe that side door could be your emergency exit. Try to make a mental note of what you see. Notice where the fire might be dropping down. Is the fire already in the attic or cockloft?

You are an extension of the eyes, ears and nose of the fire investigator. You are the most qualified to understand and observe the total picture.

Don't forget to try before you pry. As firefighters we must gain entry to perform our duties of ventilation, search, rescue and extinguishment.

Because of crime, many entries are strengthened with additional locks. To the investigators it would be a vital part of their case if they were to find out the door was unlocked before you forced your way in. Try turning the knob to see if the door was unlocked. That would be one of the questions you the firefighter might want to answer .

If the door is always locked, why did you find it unlocked. As all of us in the fire service can attest, fire does not only attack the poor. Fire in a upscale neighborhood can just as easily kill the occupants as a fire in a slum. We must train our minds to use our senses to assist in the investigation making each job easier to perform. What I have discussed above is applied to many things we do in our lives. We take our senses for granted yet they help keep us alive each day.

When pulling up to a motor vehicle crash, you the first responder want to understand how the mishap occurred. That information could exist within the crowd that has gathered.

The same applies to fire investigations. In many cases a wealth of information exists at the fire scene. Many eyes have been watching the fire advance. As you extinguish the fire, observers begin to leave. As you pick up your hose lines, use your sense of hearing to listen to what is being said out on the street. Your ability to listen can be a great help to the investigator.

As firefighters we are fortunate to have tools and equipment available to extinguish a fire. Why not put the tools we carry with us all the time to work to aid the investigators.