By Ron Kanterman
Journal entry 12 discussed some of the aspects of arson awareness such as basic fire behavior, building construction, what line personnel should look for and general fire ground considerations. Flammable and combustible liquids are easy to get and easy to use and may be the used as the weapon of choice for the next bad guy in line. Arm yourself with knowledge and know the signs of arson. It will lead to safer fire ground operations.
Incendiary Fire Patterns:
Incendiary fire usually leave behind some type of indicator.
Most arsonists are not very clever.
The most common ignitable liquid used is gasoline.
May use device of an electrical, mechanical or chemical nature.
Device is as elaborate as the imagination of the arsonist. (Not clever-See #2 above)
Most devices leave behind some type of residual evidence.
Trailers-Any combustible or flammable material used to spread fire from one point to another, usually leave char or burn pattern on surface where used and may be found through doors, windows, or wall openings. Common Trailer Materials-newspaper, rope, string, twine, fuse cord, clothing, bedclothes, drapes, or other similar materials, tissue paper, waxed paper, bounce fabric softener sheets, ignitable liquids, building contents
Common Indicators of Arson:
Heavy, isolated floor damage
"V" burns or grooves between floorboards
Unusual patterns on flooring materials
Unusual low burning
Holes burned through floors
Spalling of concrete
Removal of expensive items; appliances, paintings, jewelry
Removal of personal items; photos, diplomas, hobby items, wedding albums
Unnatural fire spread may be due to an ignitable liquid
Excessive or unusual fire damage compared to similar fires
Excessive or unusual heat levels compared to similar fires
Fires during strange times: holidays, weekends at commercial properties, time of day,
during renovations/remodeling, fires during electrical storms or bad weather
Scene Security & Evidence Preservation:
Did anyone ever tell you exactly why you may sit on a building for hours after the fire is out waiting for the fire investigator? It's simple. An old court case set precedent in which someone was arrested and tried for arson as was let go. The landmark case for the fire service similar "Miranda" for law enforcement is Michigan vs. Tyler. Tyler owned an antique store and burned it. The problem was, the investigator and state police came and went as they pleased within a three day span. Tyler's attorney argued that anyone could have gotten in to the unsecured building and planted evidence against his client. So...we now maintain custody of the building until the arrival of the investigator. (There's a bit more to it than that but you have the general idea.)
Restrict entry in to the scene; Various persons may want to enter the scene like owners concerned about damage, personal items, etc. OR maybe the arsonist wants to check out their work!
Set up an entry procedure: verify person has right to enter, determine purpose for entry, escort when appropriate for safety and control, document any items removed, don't allow tampering with any controls, switches, breakers, lights etc. A sign in sheet is good idea!
When evidence is discovered; do not touch it unless it could be destroyed or damaged by fire, collapse or fire suppression, protect it until the arrival of the investigator, don't handle it! (If you must, hold cans or containers by the edges with two fingers, photograph prior to moving, photograph area after removal, record date and time found, place in appropriate container, secure evidence, maintain chain of custody.
Consider Some Accidental Causes of Fire:
Heating equipment, cooking equipment, smoking and related fires, electrical systems and equipment, flammable & combustible liquids, open flames and sparks, spontaneous heating, gas fires and explosions, fireworks and explosives, dust explosions, low temperature ignition sources, lightning.
Remember, be careful, be deliberate, be observant and if it doesn't feel right or look right, tell an officer or other fire ground boss. Learn the signs of arson and pass them on to your members. Use Journal Entries 12 &13 for drills. The safety of your brothers and sisters may be on the line.
Stay well, stay safe,