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  1. #1
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    Default FF Destroys Evidence

    I investigated a fire yesterday. Nothing special. Bedroom fire, good burnout, FD made a great stop. No indication of arson, lots of candles, some talk of a malfunction in either an extension cord or a refrig. FD had overhauled the room.

    During the reconstruction, we recovered the power strip from the debris. Five plugs in it. The only problem was that someone had taken a wire cutter and cut the cords off at the plugs. A little investigation showed that it was not an investigator who did this, it was a FF who happened to be bragging about the new Leatherman tool he got. During overhaul, when the officer wasn't looking (I know this because this is a good FD), WHACK, WHACk, WHACK, WHACK, WHACK-cut off all five cords to show how good the tool was.

    The result? End of investigation. This little stunt deprived the homeowner (taxpayer) of the ability to get his deductible back, deprived the insurance company of a possible subrogation case and prevented the identification of a potentially hazardous product.

    The moral of the story? You, as a FF, have a responsibility to protect potential evidence to the best of your ability. You have the responsibility to report any information that may be important to the investigation to the
    IC. I am not talking about what happens in the heat of the moment, I am talking about what happens unnecesarily.


  2. #2
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    Was that a fire last night?
    This space for rent

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    MembersZone Subscriber dday05's Avatar
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    George, from reading your post what a DB. I'm amazed of how some people must act. I think this person needs to be talked to so they realize what they've done. We know better then that. I'd assume if it was this persons house he'd be a bit po'd right. Anyways since your talking about investigations, whats your feeling on investigating a fire that had been extinguished with foam (CAFS)? Some people are saying it disturbs the fire scene and should'nt be used. I feel it would sort of preserve the scene. My thinking is we use way less water with the foam and we're not "flooding" the house or buildings anymore to put the fires out. Thanks.

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    Forum Member nmfire's Avatar
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    Silly question George. Why is this such a problem (not that I'm defending the idiot who cut them). You know they were attached before the fire. You know he cut them. What difference does it make? I'm just kinda confused.
    Even the burger-flippers at McDonald's probably have some McWackers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nmfire View Post
    Silly question George. Why is this such a problem (not that I'm defending the idiot who cut them). You know they were attached before the fire. You know he cut them. What difference does it make? I'm just kinda confused.
    There you go asking rational questions... Now cut that out!

    (You went and made me read the post of someone on my ignore list. Bad nmfire!)

    Since the cause of the cut wires is known it doesn't totally ruin the investigation although it does complicate it. Cutting the wires was stupid but not terminal..

    Firefighters should know better...
    Last edited by DeputyMarshal; 03-18-2007 at 09:47 AM. Reason: typo
    "Nemo Plus Voluptatis Quam Nos Habant"

    The Code is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KyleWickman View Post
    Was that a fire last night?
    No. It wasn't in Morris County. Besides, I trained them better than that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nmfire View Post
    Silly question George. Why is this such a problem (not that I'm defending the idiot who cut them). You know they were attached before the fire. You know he cut them. What difference does it make? I'm just kinda confused.
    It might be terminal. If you look at it from an evidence spoliation issue, if I am on the opposing side, I am going to argue that I did not have the opportunity to view the evidence in it's original state. In addition, I am going to argue that if this alteration was made, what other alterations were made.

    Another complication is that I may not be able to reliably match up the cords with their plugs.

    In this case, it was an accidental fire and it involves only money. What if this was an incendiary fire and I had to, beyond a reasonable doubt, eliminate all accidental causes for this fire? An argument could be made that no one knows if the fire was caused accidentally as the morass of cords and plugs could not be reliably eliminated.

    I can tell you, that in this case, I am pretty certain that the electrical cords and this power strip did not cause the fire. But "pretty sure" equals an undetermined fire cause.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dday05 View Post
    George, from reading your post what a DB. I'm amazed of how some people must act. I think this person needs to be talked to so they realize what they've done. We know better then that. I'd assume if it was this persons house he'd be a bit po'd right. Anyways since your talking about investigations, whats your feeling on investigating a fire that had been extinguished with foam (CAFS)? Some people are saying it disturbs the fire scene and should'nt be used. I feel it would sort of preserve the scene. My thinking is we use way less water with the foam and we're not "flooding" the house or buildings anymore to put the fires out. Thanks.
    I'm going to start a new thread so this doesn't get missed. It is a great question.

  9. #9
    MembersZone Subscriber dday05's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeorgeWendtCFI View Post
    I'm going to start a new thread so this doesn't get missed. It is a great question.
    Thanks for your time!

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    I tried to start a new thread, but because this website SUCKS, it won't let me.

    Here is my answer:

    This question was posed in another thread.

    ...whats your feeling on investigating a fire that had been extinguished with foam (CAFS)? Some people are saying it disturbs the fire scene and should'nt be used. I feel it would sort of preserve the scene. My thinking is we use way less water with the foam and we're not "flooding" the house or buildings anymore to put the fires out. Thanks
    Great question.

    To say not to use CAFS to preserve the integrity of an investigation is kind of extreme. It is a great tool for effective and safe fire suppression if used properly.

    CAFS is a generic term. There are many manufacturers and many different formulas. It is true that it will contaminate a scene. And you are absolutely correct. CAFS will, in many cases, preserve any evidence of accelerant by kind of sealing it in. They key is to properly deal with the CAFS while you are investigating the scene.

    First, while you are interviewing the IC, one of the questions is usually a synopsis of fire suppression activities. Ask him if CAFS was used. Whatever his answer, make sure you document it in your notes and report.

    If the answer is YES, ask to see the container for the formulation they are using. Photograph it and document it. Before you complete the investigation, obtain a copy of the MSDS for this material and include it in your file. The MSDS can be obtained from the manufacturer. They must provide it and they will provide to you free.

    Secondly, if you suspect that the fire is incendiary, or if you are going to be taking debris samples for lab analysis, take a small (less than 1 oz.) sample of the CAFS liquid. If possible, obtain it from the apparatus who applied it to the area where you are taking samples. Submit this liquid to the lab and clearly note it as a control sample. The lab should be able to seperate the CAFS matrix from any accelerant matrix if they know to look at it.

    Along the same lines as contamination, I have seen one formulation of CAFS that has a small amount of kerosene in it as an emulsifier. If you deal with the control sample and background issues at the scene, you can deal with the contaminaiton by CAFS in the courtroom.

  11. #11
    Forum Member MIKEYLIKESIT's Avatar
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    Default Making life easier for Fire Investigators

    George I think with your expertise, this issue should be posted on the regular firefighters forum. We do not use any CAFS around here so that isnt a problem. However a timely reminder to the troops from a wise old arson guy wouldnt be a bad thing when it comes to over-exuberant overhauling at fire scenes.
    IAFF-IACOJ PROUD

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    Quote Originally Posted by MIKEYLIKESIT View Post
    George I think with your expertise, this issue should be posted on the regular firefighters forum. We do not use any CAFS around here so that isnt a problem. However a timely reminder to the troops from a wise old arson guy wouldnt be a bad thing when it comes to over-exuberant overhauling at fire scenes.
    That is the nicest thing you have ever said to me. Except, because this website sucks, I can't. Give it a shot and I will reply.
    Last edited by GeorgeWendtCFI; 03-18-2007 at 04:56 PM.

  13. #13
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    Looks like FH.com is having some technical difficulties. I will try to start a thread a little later. I love doing a bunch of typing for a an error message
    IAFF-IACOJ PROUD

  14. #14
    Forum Member nmfire's Avatar
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    Thanks george. I had a feeling it was more or less an issue of "lawyers using it as an excuse" rather than completely destroying the investigation. It is sad, but you are right. I can totally see it going down just as you described.
    Even the burger-flippers at McDonald's probably have some McWackers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nmfire View Post
    Thanks george. I had a feeling it was more or less an issue of "lawyers using it as an excuse" rather than completely destroying the investigation. It is sad, but you are right. I can totally see it going down just as you described.
    But understand that an action like that could, very conceivably, completely destroy an investigation.

  16. #16
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    Smile Funny Quote

    A quote from the movie backdraft:
    Donald 'Shadow' Rimgale: So stop me if I got this wrong. Now the fire is almost out, you're upstairs on the unburned floor checking for heat, is that correct? And you've been told by your Battalion Chief, your Captain and by me not to do nothin', right? Not to do nothin' until ordered. That's correct, right?
    Candidate: Yes, sir.
    Donald 'Shadow' Rimgale: Ok. But now the itch starts. The 'Glory Boy' flash starts. 'Hey, I'm a hero. Heroes don't just stand around.' You can tell me, that's what it was, wasn't it?
    Candidate: Yes, sir.
    Donald 'Shadow' Rimgale: So you punched out a window for ventilation. Was that before or after you noticed you were standing in a lake of gasoline?
    [shouting]
    Donald 'Shadow' Rimgale: Was that BEFORE OR AFTER you noticed you were standing in a lake of GASOLINE, YOU IDIOT?
    Candidate: Before, sir.
    Donald 'Shadow' Rimgale: You could have burned or killed or crispened half that company! To say nothing of the fact that you wrecked the physical evidence that I use to prove that it's arson, and you know how darn hard it is to determine the cause of these fires! Now you go home and you think about that!

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