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Fire Investigation Step by Step – is it Arson?

by | Blog

When conducting a fire investigation, is it Arson, an accident or something overlooked… how do you know for sure?

As we know from a standards perspective, NFPA 921 was originally released 20 years ago – in 1992, and when it was first introduced, it hit fire departments like a ton of bricks. Many felt that the use of the word “scientific” simply did not belong in the fire services, simply because scientific is mostly used in scientifically based environments like laboratories or where experiments are conducted. Fortunately, we have come a long way since, and the value of the scientific method for producing evidence-based, defensible fire reports is well understood. NFPA revised 921 in 2014 and again in 2017 in attempts to properly guide Fire Chief’s and Investigators.

How should a fire department summarize NFPA 921?

In simple terms fire investigations are based on proper data collection, witness statements and analysis consisting of peer review of one’s hypothesis or with clear reference to external causes determined as the key to the investigation. Why is on scene data a key component of any fire investigation? That is how one’s conclusion can be defended in a legal challenge or used to confirm an investigator’s conclusion through a peer review. Good data means a good, supported foundation of the outcome.

Without any evidence to support the cause being proposed, the entire scientific method falls apart.” – Randy Watson, IAAI-CFI, IAAI-CI, F-IAFI FEI, CVFI, CFII, senior Fire Investigator

Fact or Fiction: Can you trust your current fire department investigator’s report or process in a legal setting?

Any scientifically supported fire cause determination requires proper understanding and application of structured analysis, as well as attention to details based on the available data. This is where today, modern technology is now playing a significant part of all fire investigations, making it easy to capture and organize data. Imagine using technology such as your smartphone or a tablet and walking through a fire scene and methodically capturing organized data by following the NFPA 921 process documenting witness statements, collecting information on the scene, and furthermore including high-quality annotated photos supporting the details needed for the analysis. Well 20 years later since the standard 921 was released, this is now possible and now a fact. YES, there is a proven secure mission critical application for that now available.

An application that leads you through a guided, thorough data collection, with witness statements, defensible facts, and lets you analyze the data objectively, and even call upon other professionals to further develop and review your investigation report. Imagine using technology we already have grown to trust as our source of data collection and organizing such information and facts, in a structured way maximizing the accuracy and value of fire investigation reports in an approach consistent with NFPA 921 that leads to determining a fire cause?

Think SmartInvestigate from APX. APX is a software company exclusively helping fire departments achieve their goals. The company has been exclusively serving fire departments for the past 11 years looking at technology applications to simplifying access to good information during response and streamlining the data collection for preplans, inspections and not investigations. Using standard readily available smart devices, fire departments can now leverage a guided approach to gathering, analyzing, and capturing information for any fire and forpost incident reporting and data collection.

SmartInvestigate is available and fits any department’s budget, all you need is a smart device and the APX SmartInspect application. Please visit SmartInvestigate to learn more to get additional details on how you can start today to easily take advantage of this capability.

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About the author

Paul Martin, President & CEO, APX Data

Paul Martin has devoted his career to public safety. He has helped departments across Canada and the United States through his work with Airbus and Motorola Public Safety Divisions. He is currently the founder and CEO of APX Data, a company devoted exclusively to helping fire departments modernize their fire prevention, response and fire investigations through the use of mobile technology. APX Data was first to market, introducing smart mobile applications to the fire service in 2013. APX has validated information on over 140 million structures in its database for all of the U.S., and is growing at a rate of more than 50% year over year. To talk to Paul, please connect with him on LinkedIn, visit apxdata.com or call 1-888-240-0591.

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