1. #1
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    Default Television set fire...?

    We just had a single apartment fire in our area where the point of origin appears to be a 32" floor model television set. The occupants stated the (10 year old or less) television was off and had not been turned on for some time. Reading Kirk's Fire Investigation there is only two short paragraphs relating to television set fires. I have searched the web and have not found any links relating to a television set starting a fire. How may here on the forum have investigated a fire that was finally attributed to a T.V.?

    This fire reminds me of Brannigan's words, "firefighters have to be eternally curious". Thanks and Be Safe, Mark V.

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    Here is a link to the US Consumer Product Safety Commision, http://www.cpsc.gov/ . It has quite a bit of information regarding many different products. I did a search on television fires and a few examples did pop up although I didn't go through all of them. Also, what about arc tracking? Failure of insulation in internal components and such? These topics are covered quite extensively in Kirk's, not sure about 921 though.

    This information is great, however doesn't there become a legal problem when you begin to disect the television? So long as everything is documented and photograpghed you wouldn't have to worry about destruction of evidence, but if somehow it goes to court (say insurance v. manufacturer), it would seem you would easily be disqualified as you aren't an expert in televisions, in other words it seems it would most safe to have a person who professionaly deals with TV's or a lab do the inspection on it just for safety sake. Anyone else have opinions?

    Please don't read this wrong, I'm not suggesting you do anything different or making accusations, I'm merely asking a question as I'm relatively new to public sector investigation and am eager to learn through example. I hope the link provided helps in some way.

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    Default TV's

    In the past I was taught that when they came out with the instant on TV's which didn't do warm-up time, that they could be a fire hazard. I've done reading on TV fires, but have never truly experienced one. I did have a few cases where the cords and power strips around an entertainment center did play a role in ignition.

    I did have one case where we got called for a fire in a TV, when we arrived there was the odor and light smoke, but not real fire damage. When we examined the TV we found a knicknack and a few other items that were on top of the TV melted in to the plastic cabinet part. There was a malfunction inside the TV, the flames never really built up, but it was hot enough that things melted into the top.

    I assume if you had any major damage with this one the insurance company will be bringing in their privates and some electrical engineering will be done. But no, in 20+ years I haven't dealt with a TV being a direct cause of a major fire.

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    This information is great, however doesn't there become a legal problem when you begin to disect the television? So long as everything is documented and photograpghed you wouldn't have to worry about destruction of evidence, but if somehow it goes to court (say insurance v. manufacturer), it would seem you would easily be disqualified as you aren't an expert in televisions, in other words it seems it would most safe to have a person who professionaly deals with TV's or a lab do the inspection on it just for safety sake. Anyone else have opinions?
    DON'T TOUCH THE TV!!!!! EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    It matters very little if you are qualified. You will be commitnig "Spoliaiton of Evidence". From NFPA 921, 11.3.5:

    Spoliaiton of evidence refers to the loss, destruction, or material alteration of an object or document that is evidence or potential evidence in a legal proceeding by one who has the responsibility for its preservation. Spoliation of evidence may occur when the movement, change or destruction of the evidence, or the alteration of the scene, significantly impairs the opportunity of other intersted parties to obtain the same evidentiary value from the evidence,as did any prior investigator.

    You should both read very carefully NFPA 921 11.3 in its entirety.

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    Default Not Touching

    I pretty much learned long ago and with more frequency in the past years, that subrogation is usually a probability in any fire which possible involves a manufactured device or substance. I've seen privates trip over each other trying to get information, I've seen money spent on subrogation which greatly exceeds the original damage claim, and I've seen expert witness versus expert witness come out a draw. I've also sat through depositions where I've already admitted to not being an electrical engineer or electrical expert, and continually be asked "do you feel this started the fire"? Misuse of a device or use not approved by manufacturers guidelines is a different story, I'm talking a malfunction when use was proper or by the book.

    I don't touch any of this stuff anymore, I may protect it for further examination by somebody with more smarts then me, but I never claim a device caused a fire because of a malfunction unless I am 100% sure which it rare. I may say a device could have contributed, then the experts can take over. And as I stress in my teachings...........there is nothing wrong with saying "undetermined" you may think it makes you look unknowledgeable, I think it shows you have some smarts.

    As in the terrarium fire I posted about earlier, I simply secured all the related items, and let the expert take it away. And have any of you read a manufacturers use lately, most of them absolve themselves of all blame by saying device must be attended at all times when in use.

    PS- Maybe I'll start a thread sometime on "expert findings" which I personally didn't think we're too expert, or the money thrown away by the insurance industry.

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    Quote Originally Posted by StillLearning
    I pretty much learned long ago and with more frequency in the past years, that subrogation is usually a probability in any fire which possible involves a manufactured device or substance. I've seen privates trip over each other trying to get information, I've seen money spent on subrogation which greatly exceeds the original damage claim, and I've seen expert witness versus expert witness come out a draw. I've also sat through depositions where I've already admitted to not being an electrical engineer or electrical expert, and continually be asked "do you feel this started the fire"? Misuse of a device or use not approved by manufacturers guidelines is a different story, I'm talking a malfunction when use was proper or by the book.

    I don't touch any of this stuff anymore, I may protect it for further examination by somebody with more smarts then me, but I never claim a device caused a fire because of a malfunction unless I am 100% sure which it rare. I may say a device could have contributed, then the experts can take over. And as I stress in my teachings...........there is nothing wrong with saying "undetermined" you may think it makes you look unknowledgeable, I think it shows you have some smarts.

    As in the terrarium fire I posted about earlier, I simply secured all the related items, and let the expert take it away. And have any of you read a manufacturers use lately, most of them absolve themselves of all blame by saying device must be attended at all times when in use.

    PS- Maybe I'll start a thread sometime on "expert findings" which I personally didn't think we're too expert, or the money thrown away by the insurance industry.
    That's a great idea. You do that and I'll post about a hundred public fire investigative reports that were total bull, prepared by incompetent people posing as ire investigators.

    I think you are most likely one of them. You see, while there is a small segment of the industry that is inept, private fire investigators live and die by their last case. Word travels fast and a bad rep is hard to shed. Most private guys have years more experience, years more education and exponentially more fires than the public guys-most, not all.

    What you need to do is gain a little better understanding of what your role as a public sector is. BTW, you do realize that a deposition is fact finding and that the information they are letting you talk about could be used to hang you at trial, right?

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    Default TV Fire

    I'm one of what???

    Sorry if I'm not the expert you are, won't go into credentials or training, but since I've worked on the public side for many years, and done some work for the private side I think I do understand how things work. And yes, I understand what a deposition is, and haven't managed to hang myself too bad yet. Maybe a few times in the early years.

    My point was is that I've never claimed to be an expert, or didn't state something I couldn't prove by fact. I gladly hand off to privates when they get hired, and there are many privates I respect, call when I have a question, and am thrilled to work with. I also know most of the privates respect me for my ability to write reports, do my investigations, and provide information which I obtain. And yes, on occasion they call me.

    There are also a few privates who've tried the following:

    1) Told me I was wrong because I wasn't designated a fire as arson because their "sniffer" found traces of gasoline or hydrocarbons. Think is, there was a lawnmower and weedeater full of gas in the area they searched, and while certainly arson could have occurred (at this time I had no motive or basis to go on) I certainly wasn't going to declare it that.

    2) A private who asked me to "change" a fire report which was two years old because he'd found new information. Thing is after I repeatedly asked for the "new information" it shed no new light on things. His "new information" obviously didn't sail too much farther, because the trial was cancelled the next day because test results and xrays didn't have a leg to stand on.

    I'll leave the expert stuff to you. I simply stick to my limits of knowledge, and try to expand them the best I can.

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    Default Reports

    I forgot to add that I agree on the "public" side of investigations and reports being bad. In working with younger ones I won't tell you how many times I've been handed a half of page which tells me absolutely nothing, or doesn't have backing of what it does tell me. I am a nut on good reports which are accurate, I spend alot of time helping with rewrites.

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    George may not agree, but heres the way I look at. Being a public official, my job is to detrmin if it was arson or accidental. So, once I rule out arson, I leave it alone. Unless its arson, I do not mess with "evidence" in any way, shape or form. Except for in certain situations, I may take an item from a scene and secure it in case a private investigator or manufacturer wants to examin said item. Then proper documentation and releases are obtained through our legal department.

    But Im with George on 921, read it, know it, live it.
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    Default Total Agreement

    Total agreement with you, and I am basically dictated by what the higher ups request anyways. I'll add one more category to arson or accidental, that would be "undetermined" if I can't come up with either. Local and state protocal also dictates some of my work. My biggest thing is to simply try and learn something from each case I'm assigned to.

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    Sometimes you just need to leave the cause as "undetermined" and let the insurance company hagle it out. In my experience, it is not uncommon to come up with an area of origin, and then a "possible" cause.. where we don't specifically say a particular device caused the fire. In this case, can you rule out other potential ignition sources in the area of television, leaving it as the most likely thing in the area of origin that could have caused the fire? You then leave the door open for such things as equipment failure, misuse by the owner, or after market tampering. There is nothing wrong with documenting the "facts" that you observe. You just need to ask yourself if you can competently explain what you document. If you are not qualfied to examine an electrical device for a malfunction, you would not want to claim that you are by calling the cause as being a specific malfunction.
    Richard Nester
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave1983
    George may not agree, but heres the way I look at. Being a public official, my job is to detrmin if it was arson or accidental. So, once I rule out arson, I leave it alone. Unless its arson, I do not mess with "evidence" in any way, shape or form. Except for in certain situations, I may take an item from a scene and secure it in case a private investigator or manufacturer wants to examin said item. Then proper documentation and releases are obtained through our legal department.

    But Im with George on 921, read it, know it, live it.
    I agree 90%.

    Since you are not going to get involved in the investigation of an accidental fire, why get involved in the chain of custody at all? The insured has a contractual obligation to the insurance co. to cooperate in an investigation into a claim in any way they are asked. That includes not tampering with or destroying evidence of the fire they had. If it is "evidence" of an accidental fire, leave it at the scene. Tell the owner or insured not to touch it as their insurance co. won't pay if they do (of course, it is a lie. Who cares?). Then leave it there. Even moving the evidence, depending on the circumstances, can constitute spoliation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MetalMedic
    Sometimes you just need to leave the cause as "undetermined" and let the insurance company hagle it out. In my experience, it is not uncommon to come up with an area of origin, and then a "possible" cause.. where we don't specifically say a particular device caused the fire. In this case, can you rule out other potential ignition sources in the area of television, leaving it as the most likely thing in the area of origin that could have caused the fire? You then leave the door open for such things as equipment failure, misuse by the owner, or after market tampering. There is nothing wrong with documenting the "facts" that you observe. You just need to ask yourself if you can competently explain what you document. If you are not qualfied to examine an electrical device for a malfunction, you would not want to claim that you are by calling the cause as being a specific malfunction.
    Very often, the private side investigator is not able to make that call either. About 1/3 of my fires involve a coop investigation with an engineer. They have the expertise to examine whatever process, equipment or fixture that I believe the fire started in to confirm it.

    The smart investigator will have more "undetermined" calls as they get more experienced.

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    Quote Originally Posted by StillLearning
    I'm one of what???

    Sorry if I'm not the expert you are, won't go into credentials or training, but since I've worked on the public side for many years, and done some work for the private side I think I do understand how things work. And yes, I understand what a deposition is, and haven't managed to hang myself too bad yet. Maybe a few times in the early years.

    My point was is that I've never claimed to be an expert, or didn't state something I couldn't prove by fact. I gladly hand off to privates when they get hired, and there are many privates I respect, call when I have a question, and am thrilled to work with. I also know most of the privates respect me for my ability to write reports, do my investigations, and provide information which I obtain. And yes, on occasion they call me.

    There are also a few privates who've tried the following:

    1) Told me I was wrong because I wasn't designated a fire as arson because their "sniffer" found traces of gasoline or hydrocarbons. Think is, there was a lawnmower and weedeater full of gas in the area they searched, and while certainly arson could have occurred (at this time I had no motive or basis to go on) I certainly wasn't going to declare it that.

    2) A private who asked me to "change" a fire report which was two years old because he'd found new information. Thing is after I repeatedly asked for the "new information" it shed no new light on things. His "new information" obviously didn't sail too much farther, because the trial was cancelled the next day because test results and xrays didn't have a leg to stand on.

    I'll leave the expert stuff to you. I simply stick to my limits of knowledge, and try to expand them the best I can.
    1. I never defended all private guys. My post clearly said "most".

    2. I have no intention of getting into a ****ing match with you. In one set of posts, you talk about conducting destructive testing on an appliance. Then, all of a sudden, you are 100% by the book and a mentor to new investigators. Hmmmm. A piece of this puzzle is missing here.

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    Default Investigation

    Quote Originally Posted by GeorgeWendtCFI
    2. I have no intention of getting into a ****ing match with you. In one set of posts, you talk about conducting destructive testing on an appliance.
    .
    Whenver I get the urge to get into a ****ing match I just walk over to city hall. No desire for that here either.

    I guess you lost me about when I said I did destructive testing on appliances? If I said that I errored or didn't write properly which happens. I will certainly correct what I said. Most of all I'll do what I can to work with anybody involved, simply to find out what most likely happened and why. I look at every investigation as a personal learning experience for myself.

    Now, I didn't say I don't occasionally do "destructive testing" on things to experiment around and with things not involved in fires. I am the curious type. :-)

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    Now since spoliation has been brought about... Wouldn't proper photographing, documentation, scene scetches and whatnot protect against spoliation? Taking into consideration proper handeling of evidence/Chain of custody?

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    Quote Originally Posted by firefighter1023
    Now since spoliation has been brought about... Wouldn't proper photographing, documentation, scene scetches and whatnot protect against spoliation? Taking into consideration proper handeling of evidence/Chain of custody?
    The tasks that you mention are all part of a properly executed investigation. They are, however, no replacement for a piece of evidence that is altered or destroyed forensically.

    There is NEVER an excuse for a public sector investigator to conduct destructive testing on an item suspected of causing an accidental fire. NEVER.

    Here are three thoughts:
    1. If a FD collects an item as "evidence", do they have a proper evidence storage facility and evidence management system? A file cabinet otr a vehicle trunk is NOT an evidence storage facility. A notebook is NOT a proper evidence management system.

    2. When you collect a piece of evidence from a fire scene, consider that the evidence does not belong to you. It belongs to the person having the fire. That piece of evidence is critical for the person having the fire to have in order for them to have a proper investigaiton into their claim. It is also critical for the both sides of the potential civil case-the insurance co. and the manufacturer of the item-to have equal access to the evidence in its undsiturbed state in order for them to prepare their cases fairly. That guarantee is in every state's Court Rules.

    3. There is no difference in you taking a burned up personal article from a home and non-burned up item from a home (in an accidental fire). It is theft of property.

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    Thanks for the reply GeorgeWendtCFI. I was under some of the same impressions, regarding public sector investigation. That does help clarify a few things for me. I've done plenty of reading through IFSTA, Kirks, 921 etc... but no where does it truly define the difference between public and private sector investigations althoug I am beginning to see the difference when it comes down to handeling of evidence and how far different cases are taken.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GeorgeWendtCFI
    I agree 90%.

    Since you are not going to get involved in the investigation of an accidental fire, why get involved in the chain of custody at all? The insured has a contractual obligation to the insurance co. to cooperate in an investigation into a claim in any way they are asked. That includes not tampering with or destroying evidence of the fire they had. If it is "evidence" of an accidental fire, leave it at the scene. Tell the owner or insured not to touch it as their insurance co. won't pay if they do (of course, it is a lie. Who cares?). Then leave it there. Even moving the evidence, depending on the circumstances, can constitute spoliation.
    The only time I did was an accidental fire involving a toaster, some pop tarts, a young boy and 3 different insurance companies. I had a feeling (which proved to be correct) that one of the insurance companies was going to grab the "evidence" in order to dispute the claim of the child.

    I had prior information (through a private investigator) that indicated this wasnt the first pop tart involved fire. So we took the toaster into evidence, and made sure all three insurance companies had an equal chance to examine it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave1983
    I had prior information (through a private investigator) that indicated this wasnt the first pop tart involved fire. So we took the toaster into evidence, and made sure all three insurance companies had an equal chance to examine it.
    Pop Tarts will make one HELL of a fire! Been there... done that... I never leave one in a toaster unattended.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave1983
    The only time I did was an accidental fire involving a toaster, some pop tarts, a young boy and 3 different insurance companies. I had a feeling (which proved to be correct) that one of the insurance companies was going to grab the "evidence" in order to dispute the claim of the child.

    I had prior information (through a private investigator) that indicated this wasnt the first pop tart involved fire. So we took the toaster into evidence, and made sure all three insurance companies had an equal chance to examine it.
    Nothing wrong with that call. There are exceptions based on common sense and that was one of them.

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