Michael Wixted

When it comes to fire investigation, experience is just one piece of the puzzle

Blog Post created by Michael Wixted Employee on Sep 7, 2017
Data and scientific proof hold tremendous value in our world. This is certainly the case in legal, investigative, manufacturing, insurance and fire service circles that in the past put greater emphasis on just the expert’s opinion. Today those same authorities overwhelmingly consider “the how” of fire origin and the cause behind that opinion.

Experience is not the same as competency, especially in the field of fire investigation where reliable scientific methodology is king. When it comes to fire investigations, there are basic job performance requirements (JPRs).
NFPA 1033 The Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator identifies the duties a fire investigator needs to facilitate a safe, scientific based investigation. The document takes into account responsibilities; duties; tasks, tools, equipment and materials; evaluation parameters; desired performance outcomes; and the requisite knowledge and skills required to perform the role. It states that investigators consider scientific method; safety assessment; collaboration with interested parties; legal or regulatory requirements; and how investigative teams are organized and operated. It does not, however, explain how to perform these actions. Those critical steps are covered in NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations.  
NFPA 921 explains how a fire investigator can locate and apply scientific methodology in order to render scientific-based opinions about fire origin, cause and responsibility. It is regarded as the foremost guide in the field, in training, and in court for fire and explosives investigation. Both public sector employees who are responsible for fire investigation and private sector professionals who conduct investigations for insurance companies or litigation purposes use NFPA 921 to conduct scientific investigations.  
Today more than ever, it is essential to marry the JPRs outlined in NFPA 1033 with the scientific methodologies and practices covered in NFPA 921. To simply know the JPRs is not enough; a fire investigation professional needs to understand how to employ systematic investigation and analysis; basic scientific principles, eliminate junk theories and determine where the facts are pointing.  
To help investigators prepare for the complexities of their job, NFPA has developed Using NFPA 921 to Meet the Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator in NFPA 1033. The two-day training program teaches participants how to navigate both documents core to their industry. The course is offered at a reduced NFPA training rate, with further discounts for municipal employees
Authorities that investigate just one fire per year are still required to meet the JPRs identified in NFPA 1033 and to demonstrate that the investigation was conducted in accordance with NFPA 921 methodology. The elements of NFPA 1033 and NFPA 921 are married. Now there is a training session that explains that bond to all those associated with fire investigations.    

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