For Immediate Release - September 26, 2013

Fire and Police Graduate Fire Investigation Course

State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan and Massachusetts Firefighting Academy Deputy Director Joseph J. Klucznik are pleased to announce the graduation of 80 members of the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy’s six-day Fire Investigation course on Thursday, September 26, 2013. This rigorous professional training provides fire, and state and local police officers with the technical skills to accurately determine the origin and cause of fires in their jurisdictions and together, build solid, prosecutable cases. The Massachusetts Firefighting Academy, a division of the Department of Fire Services, offers this program, tuition-free.

Team Concept of Fire Investigation

State Fire Marshal Coan said, “The team concept of fire investigation has been used successfully in Massachusetts for over 20 years and it starts with joint training.” He added, “When police and fire are trained in the same techniques and procedures together, the consistency leads to solid origin and cause determinations, and when arson is the cause, solid criminal cases.”

Massachusetts Firefighting Academy Deputy Director Joseph J. Klucznik said, “This course provides students with the most current techniques for determining the origin and cause of fires. They are exposed to the investigatory process as outlined in the National Fire Protection Association Standard 921: Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations.”

80 Graduates: 64 Firefighters and 13 Local Police & Three  State Police Officers

The 80 graduates, including 64 firefighters, 13 local police officers and three Mass. State Police officers, represent the following agencies:

Acton Fire DepartmentMarshfield Fire Department
Amherst Fire DepartmentMass. State Police
Amherst Fire DepartmentMelrose Fire Department
Arlington Police DepartmentNew Bedford Fire Department
Beverly Fire DepartmentNewton Fire Department
Billerica Fire DepartmentNorthampton Fire Department
Boston College PoliceNorton Fire Department
Boston Fire DepartmentOxford Fire/EMS
Bourne Fire DepartmentPaxton Fire Department
Bourne Police DepartmentQuincy Police Department
Brockton Fire DepartmentRutland Police Department
Cambridge Fire DepartmentScituate Fire Department
Chelmsford Fire DepartmentScituate Police Department
Dudley Fire DepartmentSharon Fire Department
Dunstable Fire DepartmentSherborn Fire Department
Fall River Fire DepartmentSomerville Fire Department
Falmouth Police DepartmentSouth Hadley-District 2
Framingham Fire DeptSouthborough Fire Department
Franklin Fire DepartmentSouthbridge Fire Department
Gloucester Fire DepartmentStoneham Police Department
Holden Fire DepartmentTaunton Fire Department
Holyoke Fire DepartmentTempleton Fire Department
Hubbardston Fire DepartmentTyngsborough Fire Department
Hubbardston Police DepartmentWakefield Fire Department
Lancaster Fire DepartmentWebster Police Department
Lawrence Fire DepartmentWest Bridgewater Fire Department
Leominster Fire DepartmentWeston Fire Department
Lowell Fire DepartmentWeymouth Fire Department
Malden Fire DepartmentWorcester Fire Department

The six-day basic fire investigation course covers the concepts of witness interviewing, fire behavior, scene examination, fire scene documentation, and evidence collection. Students must pass a written exam. The program covers unintentional fires, intentionally set fires, automobile fires, fatal fires and wildland fires.

Origin and Cause Determination

Fire investigators work to first determine the point of origin of the fire and then its cause. Once they are able to determine the point of origin, they often rely on witness statements to identify the possible sources of ignition at that point and then work to systematically eliminate each one, until they are left with only one most probable cause.

Fire investigators are trained to examine a fire scene by going from the minimum amount of burn damage to the point or points with the maximum amount of burn damage. The rationale being that the fire has been burning longest where the most damage is and that is often where the fire began. In addition, they learn to analyze burn patterns that can reveal how the fire spread and how long it burned. They learn how to effectively collect evidence samples, how and when to avail themselves of resources such as accelerant-detection canines, state police fire investigators in the Office of the State Fire Marshal, and technical experts such as electricians.

Witness-Driven Protocol

Massachusetts uses a witness-driven protocol of fire investigation. Investigators want to interview people who know the building or saw the fire start as quickly as possible while memories are fresh or before those displaced by the fire become hard to locate. Investigators compare the witness statements to the evidence found in the forensic scene examination to determine the cause of the fire. With possibly a large number of people to interview quickly, the benefit of the added manpower a team investigation brings is obvious. Investigators compare notes and often need to re-interview witnesses for clarification. A deep understanding of fire behavior is essential to evaluating witness statements.

Coan said, “It is a challenge to determine the cause of the fire when so much of the needed evidence is destroyed by the fire itself. This training provides our local fire and police investigators with the skills and knowledge to meet that challenge.”