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Behind the scenes Pt2 with Fire Investigator Mark
CFA News chatted this week to Fire Investigator Mark Collins about the hows and whys behind fire investigation.
This is Part Two of a three-part interview with Mark Collins. You can read Part One here.
What’s your approach to the investigation?
There is a huge amount of information that an investigator needs to digest when they get on scene. If it is a structure fire then we have a lot less running around to do than if it is a large bushfire scenario.
There are normal protocols that we work through.
First of all we will complete an external examination – in a structural environment, we might do multiple laps around the building from a distance before entering.
In a bushfire scenario – depending on the scale of the fire, the external examination might take considerable time because this needs to include data for the path and impact study of the fire.
In this situation - when we're talking about large scale events - one of the most helpful bits of information from first arriving tanker crews is a waypoint or landmark where they observed the running portion of the fire on their arrival.
The area of origin will be in the burnt bit – not the area that burnt after you attended.
What happens next?
- A dynamic Risk Assessment of the structure or area in which we are going to work
- Data collection (weather collection; weather data; CCTV; plans or maps; initial photos from members of the public, firefighters etc)
- Canvassing fire crews for an understanding of what they did – where did they commence the initial attack, who broke what window or forced what door etc
The list is as endless as it is variable, but we will be looking for any information that helps us put the pieces back together to reconstruct the scene.
How do you go about examining the internal scene?
Then – after we have an understanding of the external areas of the scene, we begin to work through the internal scene examination process.
Whether it be a structural or bushfire scenario, investigators are trained to observe and interpret burn and char indicators. A good understanding of fire behaviour and practical fire dynamics is required for this job. Both disciplines require different skill sets but the standard of reporting required is the same.
We gather lots of information, and where possible we eliminate causes along the way as we move towards an area of origin.
Describe some of the factors that can make your job really challenging.
Evenafter we have done the best job we can, we don’t always get a result for the cause of the fire.
Sometimes this is because there's no evidence left for us to find, or it could be that the structure is so badly damaged that it's unsafe to get into the area of origin.
We need to be absolutely sure as to the cause – as I said earlier, “I reckon” doesn’t cut the mustard!
Mark Collins is Operations Officer for the Golden Plains catchment in District 7.