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Courts examine the “negative corpus” amendments to NFPA 921 and process of elimination in considering the admissibility of fire experts’ opinions

 “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

For many years, it was accepted practice for a fire investigator, having eliminated accidental or natural causes of a fire, to conclude, without specific physical evidence, that the fire must have been caused by human agency, i.e., arson.  In product liability cases, investigators would conclude that an appliance must have been defective, as no other cause of fire could be identified.  Courts routinely accepted such opinion evidence in criminal and civil cases. This method of fire cause determination was referred to as “negative corpus” because it was akin to a conclusion that murder had occurred even though no body had been found.

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From Out of the Abyss...

This week’s article from the past is titled Incendiary Fires Can Be Spotted and was written by Benjamin Horton, CPCU, who was President of the National Adjuster Traing School in Louisville, Kentucky..  It is taken from the Decembe 1968 Vol. XVI No.5 issue.

Incendiary Fires Can Be Spotted 

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.

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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.

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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.

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White Paper

Study by: Albert Simeoni, Zachary C. Owens, Erik W. Christiansen, Abid KemalExponent, Inc. USAMichael Gallagher, Kenneth L. Clark, Nicholas SkowronskiNorthern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, USAEric V. Mueller, Jan C. Thomas, Simon Santamaria, Rory M. HaddenSchool of Engineering, University of Edinburgh, UK

Albert Simeoni, Zachary C. Owens, Erik W. Christiansen, Abid Kemal Exponent, Inc. USA Michael Gallagher, Kenneth L. Clark, Nicholas Skowronski Northern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, USA Eric V. Mueller, Jan C. Thomas, Simon Santamaria, Rory M. Hadden School of Engineering, University of Edinburgh, UK

ABSTRACT

Two experimental fires, with contrasting intensities, were conducted in March 2016, in the Pinelands National Reserve (PNR) of New Jersey, United States in order to provide a preliminary assessment of the reliability of the fire direction indicators used in wildland fire investigation.  The experiments were part of a larger project intended to measure firebrand production in a forested ecosystem.  As part of this project, fire behavior, as well as the environmental and fuel conditions were also measured.  Two burn parcels, covering an area of approximately 30 hectares each, were ignited from unimproved forest roads which delimited them.  The forest canopy was comprised primarily of pitch pine with intermittent oaks.  The understory contained a mixed shrub layer of huckleberry, blueberry, and scrub oaks. In order to explore a wide range of indicators, objects such as bottles, cans and small fence elements were planted in the burn area, and photographed before and after the fire.  To obtain an accurate measure of pre- and post-fire fuel properties, fuel load, fuel bulk density, and fuel moisture content were also measured. In addition, environmental data (wind velocity and direction, air temperature and humidity) were recorded.  The fire behavior can be reconstructed using measurements of fire rate of spread, fire front temperatures, fire front geometry, and heat fluxes.  Video and infrared cameras were used to document the general fire behavior in selected locations.  This paper represents the first step in the analysis of the fire indicators and focuses on the more intense of the two burns and on the appearance of the macro- and microscale fire pattern indicators.  A majority of the indicators were assessed, although the configuration of the burn parcels, the ignition technique, and precipitation immediately following the fires limited a full study.  The results show that some fire direction indicators are highly dependent on local fire conditions and fire behavior and may be in contradiction with the general spread of the fire.  Overall, this study demonstrates that fire pattern indicators are a useful tool but must be interpreted in the frame of a general analysis of the fire, combined with a good understanding of fire behavior and fire dynamics.

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Seminar Dates for 2018 and 2019

March 5-8, 2018  &  September 24-27, 2018

February 25-28, 2019  &  September 23-26, 2019

IAAI - ITC 2015

IAAI President Peter Mansi welcomed everyone to the International Association of Arson Investigators 66th International Training Conference in Chicago, Illinois this past week, May 18th – 22nd.  Around 600 attendees were on hand for a great schedule of classes during the week.  Approximately 40 of those attendees were from Central America countries requiring translation throughout the week.  CCAI Director Robert Rullan gave a presentation on “CSI” as part of the training as well as assisting with the translation needs of the students.  

On opening day, CCAI’s 1st VP, Dale Feb, taught a four-hour class titled “Hearth Products Ignition Source or First Fuel Ignited”.  CCAI Member Steve Carmen taught two two-hour classes; “Math for Fire Investigators” and “Elevated Fire Origin Research”.  CCAI Member John DeHaan joined up with Instructors Chris Connealy and Kelly Kistner in presenting “Arson Convictions:  Reviewing the Science – The Texas Experience”.  Jamie and Cameron Novak were on hand to set things on fire in "Burn to Learn".  Rounding out the week was Mike Bryant teaching "Investigative Interviewing for Fire Investigations. Many other instructors joined in the training and in all, four separate tracks of education were presented throughout the weeklong conference.

CCAI President Eric Emmanuel represented the CCAI Chapter at the “Presidents Reception” on Sunday night, again during “Opening Ceremonies” on Monday Morning, at the “Chapters Presidents Luncheon” on Tuesday, during the IAAI “Annual General Meeting” on Tuesday afternoon and at the “Awards and Installation Banquet” on Tuesday night.  He was seen throughout the week engaging different individuals in conversations and promoting CCAI.

IAAI hosted a Vendor Room where approximately 30 different companies set up display booths and provided valuable information to the attendees.  A very active Spousal Program visited some of the many sights and attractions that Chicago has to offer.  Monday was spent at the Local Boutiques and Hummel Museum.  On Tuesday, the highlight of the week, they visited the Chicago Fire Academy and Fire Museum.  Wednesday and Thursday were spent exploring many of the hot spots around the “Windy City” including the Navy Pier, Sky Deck Chicago, Millennium Park and the Cloud Gate Sculpture, Art Institute Museum, Field Museum of Natural History, Museum of Contemporary Art, Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium.  The week included lunches at the Hard Rock Café, Rainforest Café, and many of Chicago’s authentic hot dog and pizza restaurants.  Before departure on Friday, the group held a farewell breakfast at the hotel.  Approximately 28 people participated in the Spousal Program.

During the IAAI “Annual General Meeting”, elections were held.  Dan Heenan (Nevada) was sworn in as President, George Codding (Colorado) was sworn in as 1st VP and Scott Bennett (Ohio) was elected as 2nd VP.  Darrell Sanders (Louisiana), William T. Moreland (Florida) and Kevin Crawford (Colorado), Chris Van Vleet (Kansas) were elected to the serve three-year terms on the IAAI Board of Directors.  Joe Sesniak (Arizona) was elected to serve a three-year term on the IAAI Foundation Board of Directors, and David Snead (Texas) was reelected as president of the Foundation.  Immediately following the election, nominations were opened for 2016.  CCAI Board Member Robert Rullan was nominated to run for a Director Position next year.

CCAI members Troy Morrison, Jim Allen, Kathryn Varner, Don Perkins, Dennis Fields, Bill Kilpatrick and his wife Debbie, Tom Fee and others made a great showing for California Chapter 22.

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