Programs Certifying Fire Investigators

 

Introduction
A major function of the Technical Working Group for Fire and Explosions (TWGFEX) is professional oversight. The group works to identify areas of fire investigation and analysis where improvements can benefit the profession. For example, TWGFEX/Scientific Working Group for Fire Explosions (SWGFEX) has a major input to ASTM Committee E30 on Forensic Sciences in the area of laboratory analysis of fire debris.

A major part of the committees work is the study of the current state of fire investigations training and certification in the United States. The Certification Committee was formed to evaluate the state of fire investigation certification and provide guidance for the development of a certification programs for fire investigation professionals.

Many certifications are a voluntary process of peer review by which a practitioner is recognized as having attained the professional qualifications necessary to practice in a particular discipline. It is a mechanism by which consumers of services can be assured of the competence of service providers. Fire investigators are no exception. A valid certification program incorporates the following components:

  • A credentialing mechanism—usually an application process that evaluates the candidate’s basic educational qualifications and work history.

  • A technical examination that measures the candidate’s knowledge.

  • A continuing education requirement.

  • A means of revoking certification when a certified individual violates certain rules.

Additionally, many certification programs require a period of in service training and evaluation by a more experienced professional or mentor. This proposal addresses certification programs administered by both public sector agencies and private organizations.

 

In the public sector, many “certification” programs end with an employer “certifying” its own employees.  Such programs require independent evaluation and verification, as well as a continuing education component.

 

In the private sector, certification is optional, but most states require licensing of fire investigators as “private investigators.”  Certification and licensing should not be construed as being the same.

Licensing may not ensure the competence of fire investigators. Certification is also available from private organizations. 

 

This proposal describes desirable components of a certification program.  More specific guidance on the design and implementation of a certification program may be found in the manuals of accrediting agencies, such as the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board and the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications, also known as the Pro Board.

 

Recommended Certification Processes:

  • The applicant must be employed as a fire investigator in the public or private sector.  The applicant’s character and background must be unimpeachable, able to withstand courtroom scrutiny and qualify as an expert witness.

  • The applicant must be old enough to either obtain Law Enforcement Certification, Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) certification or obtain a license as a private investigator.

  • The applicant must submit to a background investigation including a criminal history query.  The results of this query must not disclose any incident that negatively reflects on the applicant’s character.

  • The applicant must possess a High School Diploma, G.E.D., or equivalent.

  • The applicant will provide documentation to support their prior experience, knowledge, training, or involvement in conducting fire scene investigations.  All training should be received from a recognized or an accredited organization with curriculum reflecting the best practices generally accepted by the fire investigations community.

  • An effective fire investigations training program must provide both training and extensive practical experience in the field conducting origin and cause investigations under the supervision of an experienced mentor.  The candidate may receive instruction from either online sources or resident instruction at an accredited institution.  The candidate must receive a passing grade in all courses attempted.  The training program’s curriculum should include:

    • Building construction

    • Scientific method

    • Fire dynamics

    • Fire chemistry

    • Origin and cause / fire scene examination methodology

    • Fire investigation myths and legends

    • Fire pattern analysis

    • Basic electricity

    • Evidence collection and laboratory analysis

    • Safety

    • Legal aspects

    • Technical report writing

    • Photography

    • Interviewing techniques

    • Ethics in Fire Investigation

  • Optimally, the candidate should receive the requisite instruction prior to entering the practical phase of training.  However, if circumstances do not facilitate this, the candidate may receive the instruction while completing the practical requirements.

  • Examinations in each module should be validated to ensure correct information is being provided and that questions are effective at determining the applicant’s mastery of the subject.  This can be accomplished by referencing each question to an accepted literature source and by comparing the performance of each question to the performance of the individuals taking each examination module.

  • The candidate’s training should also include a mock trial where a judge and attorneys evaluate the candidate in preparation for their actual testimony as an expert witness.

  • The candidate should receive training in investigative techniques such as latent fingerprint examinations, tool marks, behavioral sciences, forensic pathology, forensic anthropology, and metallurgy.

  • Upon selection, the Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) candidate will be given a syllabus of reading assignments, a list of training expectations, and a schedule for completion of assignments and the class.

  • To enhance their understanding of the technical aspects of fire investigations, the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) or (Agency) should require the candidate select and research a topic relating to fire science, fire chemistry, or the physics of fire.  The goal of this requirement is to give each candidate a unique knowledge of a specific subject associated with fire and/or scene investigations.  This research will culminate in a technical paper to improve/enhance the body of knowledge in the specific area.  This document should be peer-reviewed and critiqued by a subject matter expert.

  • In addition to instruction, each candidate will receive extensive training in the field conducting origin and cause investigations under the supervision of an experienced mentor.  Each candidate must prepare a fire origin and cause report documenting the incident.  The candidate’s mentor or field training officer will peer review this document for thoroughness and technical accuracy.  This document must contain a statement indicating that it is a candidate’s origin and cause report.

  • The candidate’s respective organization will select a Field Training Officer (FTO) or mentor to supervise the conduct of the candidate’s training, both in the field and in the classroom.  The mentor should be a highly experienced investigator with the ability and willingness to impart their knowledge and experience to their protégé.

  • Field training officers and mentors will supervise their protégés until they meet or exceed the guidelines for professional qualifications articulated in NFPA 1033.

  • If practicable, the candidate’s organization should rotate field training officers or mentors in order to provide the most objective assessment of the candidate’s progress and capabilities. 

  • Each organization should have a (FTO) or equivalent program that establishes measurable standards and monitors the performance of fire investigator candidates.

  • The field training officer or mentor’s input is critical in ensuring that each candidate is assessed objectively and meets the minimum standards for certification and /or receives a certificate of competency as a fire investigator from that organization.

  • The number of fires alone that a candidate investigates is not an absolute measure of his or her competence or understanding of the fundamentals of fire investigation.  However, participating in as many fire scene investigations as possible is absolutely essential in the development of a competent and professional fire investigator.  At the conclusion of the program, the candidate must demonstrate that he or she has the ability to properly conduct the scene examination, thoroughly and accurately document the scene and render an expert opinion in court based on evidence obtained during the course of the investigations.  Failure of the candidate to demonstrate an acceptable level of performance in any of these areas should result in the removal of the candidate from the program. 

  • The AHJ (Agency) should require its certified fire investigators to be evaluated and reviewed by an independent organization recognized by the Technical Working Group for Fire and Explosion Investigators).

  • Each AHJ (Agency) producing origin and cause reports should have their reports reviewed for technical accuracy, based upon content knowledge in the fire investigative field and generally accepted practices.

 

Recommended References 

Fire and Arson Scene Evidence A Guide for Public Safety Personnel

US Department of Justice National Institute of Justice June 2000, NCJ 181584

A Guide for Fire Explosion and Bombing Scene Investigation and Curriculum

US Department of Justice National Institute of Justice June 2000, NCJ 181869

Bomb Blast Investigation Training Outline (can be seen on references)

US Department of Justice National Institute of Justice

Flammable and Combustible Liquid Spill/Burn Patterns

US Department of Justice National Institute of Justice Report 604-00

Full Scale Room Burn Study

US Department of Justice National Institute of Justice Report 601-97

Fire Protection Handbook19th Edition NFPA

Fire Protection Engineering3rd Edition NFPA

NFPA 921 Fire & Explosion Invest.2004 Edition

NFPA 1033 Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator2003 Edition

A Visual Dictionary of ArchitectureFrancis Ching

Wiring a HouseRex Cauldwell

Principles of Fire BehaviorDr. James Quintiere

Investigation of Motor Vehicle FiresLee S. Cole

An Intro to Fire Dynamics2nd Edition / Dougal Drysdale

Kirk’s Fire Investigation5th Edition/ John DeHaan

Collapse of Burning BuildingsVincent Dunn

Principles of Fire Prot. Chem. & Physics3rd. Edition/ Dr. Ray Friedman

Building Construction for the Fire Services3rd Edition/ Frank Brannigan

Expert WitnessingCarl Meyer

Building ConstructionIFSTA

Fire Cause DeterminationIFSTA

Chemical History of a CandleFaraday

Ignition HandbookVytenis Babrauskas, Ph.D.

The Complete Guide to Home WiringBlack and Decker

* The above list should include the most current editions of the referenced documents, related ASTM standards, there appendices and by no means be considered exclusive.

 

Recertification:

  • All fire investigators must participate in annual continuing education as part of their professional development. All training should be received from a recognized or an accredited organization consistent with practices generally accepted by the Fire Science or related community.

  • These courses may include:

    • Seminars

    • Conferences

    • Formal courses at an accredited institution

    • Fire service sponsored training

    • Law enforcement sponsored training

  • The fire investigator must provide the certifying authority with sufficient documentation attesting to proficiency in fire scene examination and documentation and verifying completion of continuing education.

  • If a fire investigator fails to meet the minimum recertification standards, his or her participation in the program may be terminated.  Additional time may be granted to reach recertification if extraordinary circumstances can be documented.

 

Recertification will not be granted for the following reasons:

  • Failure to conduct required scene examinations

  • Failure to complete required classroom training

  • Failure to actively pursue investigations

  • Failure to make appropriate determinations

  • Character issues

2007-2008 National Needs Assessment for the Near and Long Term Future of Fire Debris and Explosives Analysis and Investigation

 
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