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by Scott Savage
Third Degree Communications

Why apply science to law enforcement critical incident response?

It seems law enforcement activities are under more scrutiny than ever before. During incident reviews and court trials, incident commanders are often forced to explain why they made certain decisions. Note that any law enforcement officer, even first arriving junior officers, may be the de facto "incident commander" until relived by a supervisor.

Other public safety professionals who make tough decisions, such as paramedics and hazardous materials technicians, rely heavily on the science of anatomy and chemistry (respectively) to guide their decision making. What science do we as law enforcement officers rely on? If you were being questioned by a grand jury about your decisions at a critical police incident, what science can you cite as the foundational rationale for why you did what you did?

According to Sid Heal, author of such renowned texts as "Field Command" and "Sound Doctrine: A Tactical Primer", tactical science is "the systematized body of knowledge covering the principles and doctrines associated with tactical operations or emergency responses and reconciling scientific knowledge with practical ends." [1]

Whether we give it a formal name like tactical science or not, the study and application of principles such as "defining the commander's intent" and "out maneuvering a suspect" are keys to success. Tactical science is not lofty academic theory, but rather well-established and sound principles to help guide our decision making.

Consider an incident commander leading an operation to apprehend a dangerous suspect who has fled into the neighborhoods. His decision making may have a range of consequences such as: allowing the suspect to escape and therefore endangering the public, inconveniencing citizens by closing down streets, and even costing his agency lots of overtime expenditures as he brings in additional resources. How does he decide what to do and can he later justify his decisions? Fortunately, the incident commander is well versed in tactical science and makes decisions based on sound principles. He knows statistically how fast a suspect will run and how to employ an envelopment tactic to catch him. He knows how to most efficiently employ his personnel so his impact to the public and overtime cost is only what is necessary. He clearly defines his "commander's intent" to his personnel who quickly implement his plan and apprehend the suspect. If asked to explain his decisions he can point back to current tactical science books and training courses as the basis for those decisions.

Understanding tactical science or becoming a tactician isn't just for those assigned to SWAT teams. Anyone who may find themselves being an incident commander, even for a short time, can benefit from a basic understanding. That understanding doesn't automatically come with being promoted or having time on the job. Instead it comes with years of experience, attending trainings and studying the relevant literature from the experts.

Scott Savage instructs the Third Degree Communications course entitled "Response Tactics for Critical Incidents and In-Progress Crimes".


[1] Charles "Sid" Heal, Field Command, (New York: Lantern Books, 2012), 11.

In the new issue of NFPA Journal®, President Jim Shannon said the Association will focus on the leading causes of home fires, including cooking. "We also need to continue to push hard for home fire sprinklers. That's still a large priority for NFPA, and we plan to work very aggressively in 2014 on our residential sprinkler initiative," he said.



This recall involves the EFLC1105 E-flite Ultra Micro-4, 4x9W, AC/DC Battery Charger from E-flite. The charger has four independently functioning charge circuits with a LED status display. Each port can charge one 30–150mAh, 1S UM cell, a 1S MCPX cell, or one 120–300mAh 2S pack equipped with a JST-PH, 3-wire connector. The charger measures 5 inches tall by 7 inches wide by 1.5 inches deep.  The charger is blue with a gray, black and blue faceplate with white and black type. “Eflite Celectra UMX-$ Battery Charger” is printed across the center of the charger.


See the full details at CPSC

NFPA 921, Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations plays a fundamental role in fire and explosion investigations. A new edition of NFPA 921 is scheduled to be published in 2014. For years, this document has played a critical role in the training, education and job performance of fire and explosion investigators. It also serves as one of the primary references used by the National Fire Academy to support its fire/arson-related training and education programs. It is imperative that investigators understand the scope, purpose and application of this document, especially since it will be used to judge the quality and thoroughness of their investigations.

NFPA 921, Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations plays a fundamental role in fire and explosion investigations. A new edition of NFPA 921 is scheduled to be published in 2014. For years, this document has played a critical role in the training, education and job performance of fire and explosion investigators. It also serves as one of the primary references used by the National Fire Academy to support its fire/arson-related training and education programs. It is imperative that investigators understand the scope, purpose and application of this document, especially since it will be used to judge the quality and thoroughness of their investigations.


SAN DIEGO - A Team 10 and Scripps News investigation found arson fires are not investigated properly in many American cities -- including San Diego -- due to a chaotic patchwork of reporting systems and standards.

Many deliberately set building fires are not reported to the federal government.

Nationally, just 5 percent of all residential building fires are intentionally set, according to the National Fire Incident Reporting System, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.  Data collected by Scripps News suggests the national arson rate to be significantly higher.



This recall involves Nestlé three and five gallon cold and hot water dispensers. The units are white and silver in color and measure about 38 inches tall by 13 inches wide. Water is dispensed from the large plastic water bottle on the top of the unit through the machine by pushing on the paddles below that are marked with blue for cold water and red for hot water. The Nestlé Waters North America logo is on the front of the units. Only the following model and serial numbers are included in this recall. The model and serial numbers are printed on a white sticker on the back of the units.

Details can be seen at CPSC.


Model Numbers
Serial Numbers
















Below are a few random photographs taken at the November 2015 Training Seminar

DSC_0076 DSC_0067 DSC_0113 DSC_0120 DSC_0918
DSC_0094-001 DSC_0006 DSC_0214-001 DSC_0284-001 DSC_0040-001

Outfitting Your Smartphone for Fire Investigations


Cathleen E. Corbitt-Dipierro

Stonehouse Media Incorporated

Smartphones are quickly taking over the US cellular phone hardware market — iPhone, Droid, Blackberry, Palm, just to name a few brands.  With their advanced computing capability, smartphones are enabling users to perform more and more tasks on their phone than just the simple calling and texting.  This computing power is harnessed by “apps,” which are application software programs used on smartphones.

For the fire investigator, the smartphone can become a handy tool in your daily work, but only if you know how to outfit it.  This article highlights some of the core apps that fire investigators can use every day to assist in managing their investigative and administrative work.  One caution before we begin: the investigator should be aware that any investigative information kept on your smartphone is not secure and also may be discoverable in a future legal proceeding.  For that reason, we’ve confined the discussion of apps in this article to those where case-based investigative information is not stored or shared.  At all times, exercise the utmost caution with investigative information.

There are a variety of weather apps available, from simple forecasts, to detailed Doppler radar, to live lightning strike data.  Weather apps can help you in many ways:

  • Figuring weather information into your investigative plan.  For example, sunset times will tell you if you might need to call for supplementary lighting and watching the radar of incoming inclement weather will provide critical data, so you can deploy investigative assets accordingly.
  • Employing weather data in your investigative fact-finding process, such as corroborating a witness’ statement that it was dark at a certain time or ascertaining whether a lighting strike might have been the cause of a fire.
  • Understand what special scene security and processing measures need to be taken, such as covering ventilation holes in the roof if rain is approaching or whether high humidity will prevent your evidence samples from air drying promptly.

Most weather apps have auto location based on the GPS signal from your phone, meaning that the app knows where you are and provides the weather data for that location.  You can also lookup weather for a different area and program a favorites list for different locations you travel to repeatedly.

Mapping applications, many of which are GPS-based, have both administrative and investigative value.  Using the GPS in the phone and the mapping app, you are able to:

  • Enter the address of the call you are going to and immediately get customized directions.
  • Plan a route from one location to another for a given day and receive a custom route.
  • Use the phone as a mobile GPS to get walking directions from one address to another, which can assist in tracing witness routes, finding the vantage point a witness had, or understanding the spatial relationship between addresses.
  • Obtain an overhead map showing all the roads into a certain area or to a certain address, which can help you understand witness statements, potential access points to a property, and arrival and departure routes for vehicles.

Mapping can also be used in other apps that help you find traffic, tides, mass transit, or parking information.

Remember that any information gleaned from one of these apps should be verified with another source. Roads change, streets are temporarily closed, and other events occur that may make the situation on the ground not the same as it is in a published map.

Administrative Management
There are a wide variety of management and productivity apps that can help you organize your daily tasks, including:

  • “To do” list apps, many with the ability to manage multiple custom “to do” lists.
  • Contacts apps to manage all your outside expert and scene management resources, from forensic chemists on call to heavy equipment excavators.
  • Calendar apps to keep track of your appointments, training sessions, meetings, and presentations.
  • Email “on the road,” set to copy yourself, to assist in communicating with your office, including your whereabouts, which is especially important if you are working a scene alone.
  • A business card reader that scans a card placed on the screen of your smartphone and stores it with your contacts.
  • An “hours tracker,” which is especially useful for private sector fire investigators, where you can track your hours working on individual projects using just a few finger taps.
  • A dictation app that you can use to make notes to yourself or to forward to others.

Take a little time to think about the administrative tasks you do every day and then search the available apps for your device to see what’s out there to help you manage and streamline the administrative process.

Incident Management
There are several Incident Command System apps that can help the investigator handle large incidents, including the National Incident Management System (NIMS) components, concepts, and planning forms.  Some of the ICS apps also provide an interactive look at the chain of command structure, which can assist with proper reporting at the scene.

Scene Safety
There are a number of apps available, and more are under development, that assist the investigator in working safely at the scene.  Some examples of currently available scene safety apps include:

  • NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards
  • DOT 2008 Emergency Response Guidebook
  • Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders (WISER) from the U.S. National Library of Medicine

These apps can assist in identifying hazards at the scene and provide information on how to respond to the identified hazard.

There are a number of locator apps available that can help the investigator find businesses nearby. Some locator apps also provide ratings and reviews for these businesses.  A locator app works by using the GPS in the smartphone to determine your location, and then searching a database of nearby businesses that fit the criteria you enter, which is typically a category of business or government, and sometimes augmented with additional search filters, such as distance, price, or number of “stars.” These locator apps can be extremely helpful when you are not familiar with the location and can assist you in both physical comfort and investigative ways.

Some examples of what you can find with locator apps include:

  • The address of the nearest government and public service offices, including firehouses, police stations, courthouses, and federal offices.
  • A restaurant for lunch or coffee.
  • A nearby hotel if the investigation keeps you overnight unexpectedly.
  • A repair shop if you have car or equipment trouble.
  • A list of gas stations nearby, which can help you canvass for where an ignitable liquid might have been obtained.
  • A specific place that a witness told you they were at the time of the fire or the location of their place of work or other important investigative detail.

There are also people locator apps, including offender and sex offender locator apps.

You should be aware that the locator app databases may not be definitive or complete and any information should always be confirmed with another source.

Web Searching

Most smartphones include a web searching capability, which investigators can use to look up information such as deeds and records while still in the field instead of having to go back to the office.  Be aware that some websites have a mobile device version of their site just for smartphones.  These mobile device versions may or may not include all the information available on the “regular” website.  Also, there are some website features that may not work on your smartphone.  Consult your provider for more information.

Many apps offer handy utilities that fill a specific need for fire investigators:
  • Flashlight app that uses a brightly lit screen to turn the smartphone into a flashlight.
  • Police scanner apps to help understand emergency response in the area of the incident.
  • Barcode scanner apps that scan the barcode on any product and can, in many cases, identify the product and some of the places it may be sold.
  • Ruler app can provide a quick and dirty measurement of small items — please note that this is not a replacement for a proper scale in an evidence photo.
  • A level app for use at the scene.
  • Compass apps provide cardinal directions — this is especially handy for your diagrams and photo locations.
  • A unit conversion calculator (metric to English and English to metric units).
  • Electrical tools apps provide electrical calculators and tools that may assist in understanding the electrical system at the scene.
  • The CFI Calculator app available from CFITrainer.Net can assist you with basic field calculations for Flame Height, Heat Flux, Flashover and Fire. Growth
  • iTunes, which enables you to listen to podcasts on topics of professional interest, including the CFITrainer.Net Monthly Podcast.

There are thousands of apps and more are being released every day.  Set aside some time to browse through the apps available for your smartphone and think through how they might assist you in the field.  Be sure to keep your apps up to date and periodically look for new apps that have been released and may be beneficial to you.  Put your smartphone to work for you and you can work more efficiently, safely, and thoroughly.


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