Professional Qualifications and Certification for the Fire Investigator – Part II

Posted: March 2, 2012 in Fire Investigation
Tags: , , ,

by: Jason A. Sutula

Jumping right back in from the previous post, the remaining topics as outlined in NFPA 1033 – Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator are:

10. Fire Investigation Methodology
11. Fire Investigation Technology
12. Hazardous Materials
13. Failure Analysis and Analytical Tools (List from Section 1.3.8 of the 2009 NFPA 1033)

Topic Number 10, Fire Investigation Methodology is, in essence, the sum total of NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigation. My personal goal in this blog is to dedicate at least one post if not more to describing the nature of NFPA 921 and how it lays much of the groundwork for conducting a sound fire investigation. In general, though, a fire investigation  methodology is the process by which the investigation is conducted. In almost all circumstances that arise from fire investigation that lead into fire expert work in the legal field (i.e., in both criminal or civil cases), the methodology by which a scene is investigated and the methodology by which a fire investigator comes to his/her conclusions is one of the most (if not THE most) important and significant issue.

The topic of Fire Investigation Technology encompasses the rapidly advancing technological tools that can be utilized in the field. This can included still-photo digital camera equipment, video documentation equipment, laser measuring devices, 3-D laser scanning equipment, in-field laptop computers, high-powered computer servers for running computer fire models, and even smart-phones with appropriate applications. While not all of these particular examples need to be utilized for every fire investigation, an investigator needs to be aware of the various tools available and when they need to be implemented in a particular case.

A risk at any fire or explosion scene is the presence of potentially hazardous materials. This is especially true when investigating fire in commercial or industrial applications, but hazards can and do exist in smaller residential settings. For example, industrial settings can involve the storage, leakage, or fire involvement of various chemicals. In fire or explosion investigations where chemicals are involved, special training may be required to even set foot on the scene. Certainly in these hazardous environments, personal protective equipment (PPE) will be required to perform the fire investigator role. Another example in the residential setting could be the presence of Asbestos, which would have to be mitigated or removed concurrently with the processing of the scene.

Finally, we have arrived at Topic Number 13, Failure Analysis and Analytical Tools. This is also a fairly broad topic that is related to the ability to use analysis and logic to deduce how a particular failure would occur and if it could have been responsible for initiating or contributing to the growth and spread of the fire. In industrial settings, a failure analysis is typically conducted BEFORE any loss occurs to determine the level of risk associated with  a particular process, system, or plant. The methodology behind conducting a failure analysis does not change whether it occurs before a fire or explosion loss, or after it. When conducted before a loss, the hope is that any risk discovered during the assessment can be mitigated such that the chances of a loss occurring are greatly reduced. In general, it is far less expensive for a company to purchase a risk analysis service for their facility prior to a problem than it is to suffer a fire or explosion event.

We have made it through all the topics in the field in which every fire investigator needs to be knowledgable. The various paths that lead to becoming a fire investigator provide the opportunity to gain the required knowledge in all of these topic areas. In should be recognized though, that not all of the paths to becoming a fire investigator will provide a detailed understanding into all of the topics. It is up to each fire investigator to attend continuing education to fill in areas where their personal knowledge base has gaps.

One way to do this is through the two main certification organizations in the US for fire investigators. These organizations are the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI, http://www.nafi.org) and the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI, http://firearson.com/home).

NAFI has been providing certification to fire investigators since 1982 through their National Certification Board. In addition to providing a means of certification, NAFI also conducts training seminars throughout the year. The various certifications available through NAFI are Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI), Certified Fire Investigation Instructor (CFII), and Certified Vehicle Fire Investigator (CVFI).

The IAAI began providing certification to fire investigators in 1986 though the National Board of Fire Service Professional Qualifications. Similar to NAFI, the IAAI conducts training seminars throughout the year. The main certification available for fire investigators is the Certified Fire Investigator (CFI). Also available is the Certified Instructor (CI) for those who wish to train other investigators.

Both organizations offer membership, which includes various services for a nominal yearly fee. Most importantly, each organization provides a jobs board to help job seekers find a position in the field of fire investigation.

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