Fire Investigators Roles
Fire investigation is a detailed examination of incidences related to fire. Fire investigators usually begin their work to determine the origin and cause of the incident after fire fighters terminate the fire. A fire incident with injuries and deaths require more detailed information than other fires (IAAI, 2010). The scene of the fire is similar to that of other scenes but it provides a different intensity for the fire investigators. Fire investigators must determine the cause of the fire as well as deal with the injuries and fatalities. The investigators should deal with their emotions in such an incident as well as the emotions of the victims. This paper describes the roles of fire investigators when there is an injury or fatality and how the roles differ when there is no injury or death. It also describes the impact on the role of investigators when there is an injury, and summarizes the impact on the roles by operational guidelines.
Roles of fire investigators when there is an injury or fatality
A fire incident with an injury or death is similar to other fire scenes on the procedures and processes to follow in investigation. However, it presents a different intensity for the fire investigators. It is the responsibility of the fire investigator to inform law enforcement agencies on the injuries and fatalities. The notification will assist the fire investigators to get additional expertise and resources from the agencies hence enhance their investigation on the scene (Chandler, 2009). In addition, fire investigators should treat a fire incident with fatalities and injuries as homicide. In their investigation, investigators should protect the confidentiality of evidence collected. The investigators should not rush to determine the cause of death until after an autopsy. They should protect the scene of the fire until after collecting all the necessary evidence.
It is the duty of fire investigators to interview the victims at the scene of a fire immediately. Investigators should determine at the first instance that the injured does not require immediate medical attention. In case the victims are already in the hospital, the investigator should rush to the center to interview them. Fire investigators should work as a team to collect evidence from the scene or at the hospital by interviewing the injured. The investigators should apply best practices such as documentation of injuries and fatalities, collection of evidence from clothing and consultations with health personnel.
Investigators should take photographs of the injuries, the scene and clothes of the victims both damaged or not. Survivors may have relevant information that could assist investigators in their duty. “In case of fatalities, it is the responsibility of the investigators to call the hospital staff and inform them not to clean up anything until after investigations are complete” (Chandler, 2009, p.365). Investigators must thoroughly examine the scene of the fire identifying all the debris and anything else important in providing evidence to the cause.
Impact on the role of investigators when dealing with fire victims
The role of investigators changes when dealing with victims of a fire where there are injuries and fatalities. Investigators have to deal with the emotions of survivors that are overcome by grief because of losing their loved ones or sustaining injuries. The involvement of investigators with survivors may reduce the ability to collect evidence on the scene and causes of the fire. Investigators may become too much involved with the victims through consoling them and end up forgetting their duty to gather evidence.
One of the responsibilities of fire investigators in a fatal fire accident is to handle dead bodies. Some investigators may experience instances of stress at the sight of the bodies if they are not prepared to face the scene. This stress reduces the efficiency of the fire investigators in performing their work. Therefore, it is important for fire investigators to refresh their memory when contacted to investigate a fire accident with injuries and deaths. Adequate preparation enables the investigators to separate their emotions when handling the situation.
When interviewing fire victims, investigators should be understanding and compassionate to get as much information as possible. This process affects the role of investigators who have to be insistent to get necessary information (Lentini, 2006). Victims that were close to the fire accident on its occurrence are the most difficult to deal with because their memory is still fresh. Investigators need to be patient with them and take much time with one victim thus limiting their investigation.
Investigators role when there is no injury or fatality
The role of investigators when there is no death or injury is easier and quicker. Fire investigators do not have to deal with emotional victims that are not willing to offer information. The investigators role in such a situation is to examine the debris and gather evidence to that may give information on the cause of the fire. The investigator may interview the people around the scene and these often cooperate on providing information to assist with investigations. Fire investigators gather evidence quickly because interviewers give information promptly and after the fire is off investigators are able to examine the remains.
A fire accident involving injuries and fatalities requires investigators to provide more documentation for evidence. In case there are no injuries or deaths, the responsibility of investigators is less. The investigators only provide documentation on burnt buildings or items. They do not have to deal with victims, which demand a personalized approach.
Effect of operational guidelines
Operational guidelines in investigations department may affect the role of fire investigators in a fire scene with injuries and fatalities. The investigating division may require investigators to follow strict guidelines in reporting the cases of fire. Where investigators have to follow a long chain of command to report investigations, it becomes a challenge to make accurate investigations (IAAI, 2010). The guidelines may require that fire investigators report all fatal cases and injuries before taking further steps. This process may restrict investigators from collecting all the necessary information. The operational guidelines in place may not give enough freedom to the fire investigators to carry out their duties because of bureaucracies in the division. These bureaucracies affect the roles of gathering evidence in a fire scene because of the sensitivity of the victims. The guidelines may also require fire investigators to protect information required even when they need it to clarify an issue about the incident from victims. These rules affect accuracy of information provided.
The roles of fire investigators are complex when dealing with an incident of injuries and fatalities. They range from gathering evidence from fire survivors to examining the injuries and taking photographs of the scene. The fire investigators have to be patient when dealing with victims of fire because of the emotions involved. However, these roles are different when there are no injuries or fatalities because the process is easier and quicker. The investigation division should revise the operational guidelines for fire investigators so that they can carry out their duties effectively.
Chandler, R.K. (2009). Fire Investigation. Ohio: Cengage Learning, Inc.
International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) (2010). Fire Investigator: Principles and
Practice to NFPA 921 and 1033, 3rd ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning.
Lentini, J.J. (2006). Scientific protocols for fire investigation. Taylor & Francis.