In most of our jurisdictions, the fire chief or their designate has a statutory requirement to determine the origin and cause of fires that occurred in their communities. Is your department’s fire investigator(s) qualified to conduct fire origin and cause investigations and testify in court? If not, they likely will be unable to present their opinions in either criminal or civil court proceedings, or may find themselves accused of spoliation of evidence of a fire’s cause. The professional fire investigator should be conducting their investigations in anticipation of testifying in court. Gone are the days of the fire investigator going into court and stating “I’ve been on the department for so many years so I am an expert.” If they have no formal fire investigation education, continuing education and knowledge of the current standards and guides on fire investigation, they will not qualify. Fire investigation is a profession not just a position.
NFPA 1033, Professional Qualifications for the Fire Investigator, is a document that provides the standard qualifications for fire investigators. It lists the requisite knowledge and skills the fire investigator must have to be qualified. Is your fire investigator trained to meet the qualifications of NFPA 1033? The professional fire investigator needs to be trained to the ever changing standards of NFPA 1033 which typically has a five-year renewal cycle.
NFPA 921, Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations, is a document that is the authoritative guide on how fire and explosion investigations are to be conducted. Does your professional fire investigator know NFPA 921? A fire investigator not familiar with NFPA 921 will find their conclusions will be vigorously challenged when it counts — in the court room. NFPA 921 usually has changes with each renewal cycle, as well.
When selecting a member of your department to be a fire investigator they should be the ones willing to dedicate the extra effort to continue their education in fire investigation. Your department needs to support your selected fire investigators through professional association membership and their continuing education efforts.
Your investigator has probably received local training or certification. These are good first steps. To maintain their competency they need to continue their education. There are several resources for them. Membership in a professional organization such as the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) or others is a good resource. The IAAI provides training at various regional locations and locally through its network of State Chapters. The IAAI publishes a quarterly Journal with articles on current fire investigation techniques and related research. Membership provides a network of more than 7,500 fire investigators around the world who are willing to network and share their information.
The IAAI offers free online training through CFITrainer.Net. CFITrainer was developed with the use of funds awarded by the Fire Prevention & Safety Grant through. The training modules are professionally produced and meet the requirements of NFPA 1033 and 921. There are currently 42 training modules with new ones developed each year. CFITrainer provides a resource for your investigator’s continuing education. Upon completion of a module the investigator takes a test, and if successful, receives a certificate to document their learning.
The IAAI offers professional certification programs which require recertification to document continued learning and experience. IAAI-CFI® (Certified Fire Investigator) is a Pro Board accredited certification. To receive certification, an investigator must show documented education, court room testimony and experience before challenging the certification exam. IAAI-CFI® requires recertification every five years. Other certifications are IAAI-FIT (Fire Investigation Technician) designed for the new investigator or those who may assist in a fire investigation, IAAI-ECT (Evidence Collection Technician) and IAAI-CI (Certified Instructor). These certifications help your investigator document their competencies and show their commitment to being a professional fire investigator.
We often think of fire investigators as those who just determine the origin and cause of fires. Their work is an important part of your community’s prevention efforts. They identify acts of arson so the person responsible can be held accountable, they uncover juvenile fire setters so they can receive the proper care to prevent them from setting fires, they identify faulty products so the product can be removed from the market and they identify trends such as improper candle use so preventative public service messages can be released. As a chief, your fire investigator needs your support in their ongoing professional development.
Roger Krupp, IAAI-CFI, IAAI-CI, is deputy chief of the Clarendon Hills (Ill.) Fire Department. He also is the immediate past president of the International Association of Arson Investigators.