Josh Moulin: Basic Fire Investigation for Law Enforcement

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This presentation was given in 2003 to a group of law enforcement officers attending a fire/arson seminar. The presentation provides information on basic fire investigative steps, roles and responsibilities of fire departments and law enforcement, motivations of fire setters, legal aspects, and search/seizure.

The instructor, Josh Moulin, has 18 years of public safety experience including 7 in Fire/EMS and 11 in law enforcement. Josh has an Associates degree in fire science and a Bachelor's degree in Fire Service Administration. He holds multiple fire and law enforcement certifications and is a graduate of the National Fire Academy's Fire/Arson School.

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Josh Moulin: Basic Fire Investigation for Law Enforcement

  1. 1. By: Josh Moulin Police Officer / Fire Investigator 2003 January 2003 © Josh Moulin 1
  2. 2. Instructor Background  8 years of Fire/EMS experience  Left the fire service as a Lieutenant / Fire Prevention Officer when hired as a Police Officer  Certified Fire Code Inspector  Multiple NFPA Certifications  Graduated from the National Fire Academy Fire/Arson School in Emmitsburg Maryland  Conducted multiple Fire/Arson investigations January 2003 © Josh Moulin 2
  3. 3. Objectives  Develop a basic understanding of scientific principles of fire behavior  Relationship between local fire agencies and law enforcement  Terminology used in fire investigation  Role law enforcement plays in fire investigation January 2003 © Josh Moulin 3
  4. 4. Objectives  Identify common fire patterns and how they relate to fire behavior  What makes a fire scene suspicious  Properly document a fire scene  Evidence collection principles for fire scene January 2003 © Josh Moulin 4
  5. 5. Objectives  Case law involving the investigation of fire scenes  Motives of a fire setter  Courtroom testimony for fire investigation January 2003 © Josh Moulin 5
  6. 6. Introduction  The need for a curriculum vitae  Training and experience January 2003 © Josh Moulin 6
  7. 7. Expectations of this Course  What resources are needed for a proper fire investigation  What should you do if you are assigned to a fire investigation  How do you contact resources you may need  Where does the fire department’s authority stop and yours begin January 2003 © Josh Moulin 7
  8. 8. Legal Aspects of Fire Investigations  Oregon Revised Statue gives local fire agencies statutory authority to conduct an “origin and cause” investigation  No warrant needed and no consent needed  Investigation must occur “within a reasonable amount of time”  Fire department must remain on scene January 2003 © Josh Moulin 8
  9. 9. Legal Aspects of Fire Investigation  DA’s office interpretation  Consent forms  Civil litigation  NFPA 921 – Systematic approach to fire Investigation  Exigent Circumstances January 2003 © Josh Moulin 9
  10. 10. Administrative Search Warrants  Primary objective must be a neutral plan based on specific criteria  Must show a fire of undetermined origin has occurred on the premises  Cannot unnecessarily intrude on victim’s privacy  Evidence found in plain view may be seized in administrative search warrant  Cannot “roam freely” through fire victim’s private residence  Handout January 2003 © Josh Moulin 10
  11. 11. Additional Information  Firefighters may make forceful, unannounced, nonconsensual, warrantless entry into building  Firefighters have the right to remain on premises, not only until fire is extinguished and no danger of rekindling exists, but also to investigate  After origin and cause determined, additional search of premises may be conducted only pursuant to valid warrant January 2003 © Josh Moulin 11
  12. 12. Fourth Amendment Applied to Fire Scenes  Exigent circumstances allow firefighters to enter to fight a fire (Michigan v. Clifford 464 U.S. 287, 294 & Michigan v. Tyler, 436 U.S. 499  Post fire searches are admissible when conducted within a reasonable time  Additional entries, after a reasonable time has passed, must be made pursuant to the warrant procedure January 2003 © Josh Moulin 12
  13. 13. Fourth Amendment Applied to Fire Scenes  Additional investigation after fire is extinguished and firefighters and police have left generally must be made pursuant to a warrant or new exigency. January 2003 © Josh Moulin 13
  14. 14. Oregon Fire Laws  Arson I  Arson II  Reckless burning  Criminal mischief  Reckless endangering January 2003 © Josh Moulin 14
  15. 15. Motivations of Fire Setting  Spite / revenge  Pyromania  Crime concealment  Arson for profit  Civil disorder  Vanity  Gangs  Cults  Serial arsonist  Drugs January 2003 © Josh Moulin 15
  16. 16. Profile of Serial Arsonist  Single white male  20 to 27 years old  Unstable family environment  High school educated  Considered an under-achiever  Sloppy and unkept appearance  Poorly adjusted socially and sexually  If married, usually has periods of separation  Feels sense of satisfaction after the fire  If arrested, shows no remorse January 2003 © Josh Moulin 16
  17. 17. Resources Available  Local fire department / district  Regional Fire Investigation Team  Local law enforcement  Local insurance companies  IAAI  UL / www.CPSC.gov January 2003 © Josh Moulin 17
  18. 18. Basic Fire Behavior  What is fire?  Rapid, self-sustained oxidation process with the evolution of heat and light in varying intensities  Fire must have four things to survive  Heat  Oxygen  Fuel  Chemical Chain Reaction January 2003 © Josh Moulin 18
  19. 19. Fire Components January 2003 © Josh Moulin 19 Heat Fuel Oxygen Uninhibited Chain Reaction
  20. 20. Steps of Fire Process  Input heat  Fuel  Oxygen  Mixing  Proportioning  Ignition continuity January 2003 © Josh Moulin 20
  21. 21. Classes of Fire  Class A – Ordinary combustibles  Class B – Flammable / combustible liquids  Class C – Energized electrical equipment  Class D – Combustible metals January 2003 © Josh Moulin 21
  22. 22. Stages of Fire  Incipient stage (growth)  Free burning stage (development)  Smoldering (decay) January 2003 © Josh Moulin 22
  23. 23. Oxygen Needed for Combustion  Atmosphere has 20.8 % oxygen content  Open flaming combustion will stop at 15 – 16 % January 2003 © Josh Moulin 23
  24. 24. Fire Phenomena  Flashover  Backdraft – dangerous to police and bystanders especially  Signs of backdraft  Fire gases, superheated gases, soot, smoke January 2003 © Josh Moulin 24
  25. 25. Signs of Fire  Physical effects that can be seen or measured  Lines of demarcation – borders defining heat and smoke  Movement patterns  Intensity patterns  Spalling  Clean burn  Calcination January 2003 © Josh Moulin 25
  26. 26. Char  Depth of char as indicator  Consider ventilation  Shows duration January 2003 © Josh Moulin 26
  27. 27. Temperatures  Aluminum melts at 1220 F  Copper melts at 1981 F  Glass melts at 1100 – 2600 F  Cigarette 550 F at end, 1250 in center  Collapsed springs at 750 F  Hardwood – 595-740 F  Gasoline – 853 F  Average house fire – 1300 F January 2003 © Josh Moulin 27
  28. 28. Fire Patterns  Fire will usually go up and out – path of least resistance  Shadowing  Protection  “V” patterns  Inverted “V” patterns  “U” patterns  Light bulbs  Arrow patterns January 2003 © Josh Moulin 28
  29. 29. Firefighting Tactics Changing Patterns  Importance of interviewing Fire Department  Hose Streams  Ventilation  Overhaul January 2003 © Josh Moulin 29
  30. 30. Fire Causes January 2003 © Josh Moulin 30
  31. 31. Natural Fires Lightning Earthquake Wind No direct human intervention “Acts of God” January 2003 © Josh Moulin 31
  32. 32. Undetermined  Cannot prove cause  “Under Investigation”  Can be determined at later date January 2003 © Josh Moulin 32
  33. 33. Incendiary Fire  Deliberately set fire  Suspect knows fire should not been set  Mindset of suspect  Never call a fire “suspicious” January 2003 © Josh Moulin 33
  34. 34. Signs of Incendiary Fire  Must first eliminate ALL possible accidental causes  Multiple fires  Trailers  Presence of accelerants  Low level burning  Splash patterns  Odors  Flashback  Containers  Removal of household contents January 2003 © Josh Moulin 34
  35. 35. Signs of Incendiary Fire, Cont.  Absence of personal papers and items  Location of the fire  Evidence of other crimes  Unnatural fire spread  Previous fires in same structure or with same people  Injuries to occupants or others  Time of day  Limited / blocked entrance or view January 2003 © Josh Moulin 35
  36. 36. Certainty of Opinions  Conclusive  All reasonable alternatives to hypothesis are considered and eliminated  Probable  More likely than not  Possible  Hypothesis can be demonstrated to be feasible but cannot be declared probable  Suspected  Hypothesis may be true, but insufficient data to draw a conclusion to the exclusion of other reasonable conclusions January 2003 © Josh Moulin 36
  37. 37. Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office  Required to be notified anytime a fire fatality occurs  Has additional resources January 2003 © Josh Moulin 37
  38. 38. Fire Fatalities  Team of fire department, OSFM, local L.E., medical examiner  Two individual investigations  Origin and cause  Death investigation  Considerations about moving the body  Additional damage  OSFM and ME approval  Photography  Fire debris around the body January 2003 © Josh Moulin 38
  39. 39. Fire Fatalities Cont.  Why didn’t the person get out?  Obstacles  Locks  Past history of people and buildings  Fire and life insurance coverage  Cause of death  Thermal injury v. CO asphyxiation  If unknown remains exists, consider everything human remains  Typical injuries and conditions found  Lividity  Eviscerations January 2003 © Josh Moulin 39
  40. 40. There’s a Fire…Now What?  Evaluate scene for safety  Secure scene perimeter  Use “team” approach  Consider respiratory hazards  Always talk with IC January 2003 © Josh Moulin 40
  41. 41. There’s a Fire…Now What? Cont.,  Solicit information about fire suppression  Difficulties  Flashback  Unusual findings  Forcible entry  Time and method of alarm  Weather conditions  Color of flames and smoke January 2003 © Josh Moulin 41
  42. 42. There’s a Fire…Now What? Cont.,  Scene evaluation “backwards theory”  Reconstruction of fire scene  Debris removal  Determine fire origin  Determine fire cause  Document  Field notes  Photograph  Sketch  Report January 2003 © Josh Moulin 42
  43. 43. Evidence Collection  Follow standard chain of custody  Realize fire department is usually not well versed in evidence and may need your help  Contamination  Specialized containers  Samples taken at scene  Trace evidence  Accelerant detection K-9’s January 2003 © Josh Moulin 43
  44. 44. Common Law Enforcement Role  Assist with interviews, interrogations, neighborhood canvassing  Assist with evidence collection  Criminal checks on suspects  Investigation may be “handed” off to you if suspect is developed or fire is determined to be incendiary January 2003 © Josh Moulin 44
  45. 45. Vehicle Fires  Damage from accidental v. incendiary  Look for signs of theft or damage  Two scene investigations  Overall scene & vehicle interior  Gas caps and filler tube  Shoeprints, fingerprints, skid marks  Soil samples  Tire pads  Interior vehicle examination – combustibles or flammable liquids  Ashtrays January 2003 © Josh Moulin 45
  46. 46. Vehicle Fires, Cont.  Window position  Door positions  Attempts taken to extinguish  Presence of personal items  Engine compartment  Vin number and license plates  Fire objectives January 2003 © Josh Moulin 46
  47. 47. Vehicle Fire Objectives  Identify point of origin  Usually lowest point and greatest damage  Find the heat source  Energy which ignited fire  Determine fuel source  Material ignited by heat source  Determine the event of the fire  How did heat source and fuel combine to start fire  Determine category of fire  Must accomplish 1 – 4 first. January 2003 © Josh Moulin 47
  48. 48. Motives of Vehicle Arson  Mechanical problems  Vehicle is lemon, cannot afford needed mechanical work  Owner’s financial problems  Conduct financial check  Status on car payments  Witnesses January 2003 © Josh Moulin 48
  49. 49. Terrorism Related Fires / Explosions  ELF / ALF  Use of common devices  ATF notification  Use of tagging  Websites – Anarchist’s cook book January 2003 © Josh Moulin 49
  50. 50. Fire Scene Photos January 2003 © Josh Moulin 50
  51. 51. Roof Condition January 2003 © Josh Moulin 51
  52. 52. Doors / Forcible Entry January 2003 © Josh Moulin 52
  53. 53. Exterior 360 Degree January 2003 © Josh Moulin 53
  54. 54. Arial View January 2003 © Josh Moulin 54
  55. 55. View of SE corner January 2003 © Josh Moulin 55
  56. 56. Interior Garage - Area of Least Damage January 2003 © Josh Moulin 56
  57. 57. South Interior Garage January 2003 © Josh Moulin 57
  58. 58. Electrical Panel January 2003 © Josh Moulin 58
  59. 59. Electrical Main Feed January 2003 © Josh Moulin 59
  60. 60. Top of Porch Landing January 2003 © Josh Moulin 60
  61. 61. North Side of Landing January 2003 © Josh Moulin 61
  62. 62. Underneath of Landing January 2003 © Josh Moulin 62
  63. 63. Outlet on Porch Landing January 2003 © Josh Moulin 63
  64. 64. Stain Cans January 2003 © Josh Moulin 64
  65. 65. Close-up of Stain Cans January 2003 © Josh Moulin 65
  66. 66. Paint Rollers January 2003 © Josh Moulin 66
  67. 67. Heat Damage January 2003 © Josh Moulin 67
  68. 68. Cigarette Butts January 2003 © Josh Moulin 68
  69. 69. Heat Damage January 2003 © Josh Moulin 69
  70. 70. Heat Damage January 2003 © Josh Moulin 70
  71. 71. “V-Pattern” January 2003 © Josh Moulin 71
  72. 72. Wide View of V-Pattern January 2003 © Josh Moulin 72
  73. 73. Fire Damage January 2003 © Josh Moulin 73
  74. 74. Fire Patterns January 2003 © Josh Moulin 74
  75. 75. January 2003 © Josh Moulin 75 Questions?

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