Effective investigation of the cause of any fire is a key aim in the battle against arson as well as an insight into the behaviour of fire which may inform the way we chose to manage fire risks and determine fire prevention strategies.
The investigation of fires can be divided into two main categories. These being:
- Deliberate fires
- Accidental fires
Whilst we will determine the origin and cause of all fires, some will be investigated in more detail than others. The main reasons for fire investigation may be summarised as follows:
- To contribute to National statistics via accurate reporting on the Incident Recording System (IRS).
- By identifying fire trends we will aim to prevent similar fires from occurring.
- By understanding the effects of fire on buildings we will be better able to target our enforcement and advisory fire safety resources.
- To assist with advising and educating both junior and juvenile fire setters.
- To assist in prosecuting offenders.
- To assist the coroners court.
- To assess the effect of fire on the fixed fire fighting and detection systems within buildings or its effect on other building services.
- To assess the effect of Fire and Rescue Service intervention.
- To identify faulty fire safety related equipment with a view to promoting research that will lead to improvements.
The Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 has provided the Fire and Rescue Services with greater powers under section 46 (2). (d) to take samples of an article or substance found on the premises, but not so as to destroy it or damage it unless it is necessary to do so for the purpose of the investigation; (f) to take possession of an article or substance found on the premises and detain it for as long as is necessary for any of these purposes. The extra powers will enhance the investigative process.
At the majority of scenes it will remain the duty of the Incident Commander to investigate the circumstances. However on occasion, the nature of the incident or time restrictions, might dictate that a more in-depth investigation is necessary and that, further support from within or outside the fire authority, or both, is required. Further support may be required from partnership working with other agencies including the Police, crime scene examiners and forensic scientists to determine the cause of fires and where necessary provide evidence in court.
Individuals from the agencies who might assemble at a 'Level Three' investigation (see below) should adopt a 'team approach'. The following may also be considered beneficial to the outcome of any investigation:
- Canine Detector
- Approved Specialist Forensic Consultant
- Approved Laboratory support to examine defective appliances
- Approved Legal Support to examine case papers, reports and statements for strengths and weaknesses
In essence, there are three levels of investigation which are set out in a 'Staged Approach':
- Stage 1
- Incident Commanders are trained to identify, investigate and report the cause of the fires they attend. However, for more significant fires they may require the support from a fire investigation officer.
- Stage 2
- These are investigations where the Incident Commander requires support and assistance from within the fire authority. These investigations are undertaken by 8 rostered specialist officers who provide 24/7 cover.
- Stage 3
- These are investigations which require the full support and attendance of a Fire Investigation Officer and/or Team and the Police, forensic scene examiners and perhaps Forensic Scientists.