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Behind the scenes Pt3 with Fire Investigator Mark
CFA News chatted last week to Fire Investigator Mark Collins about the hows and whys behind fire investigation: Part three.
Why is it so important to investigate fires?
I’ll focus on a couple of areas here:
The first one, is the criminal aspect, assisting VicPol to identify trends in suspicious fires and identify the area of origin and often the exact cause.
This information is critical for the Police and often close working relationship forms between CFA and VicPol where we have arson hot spots in our areas.
Last year in our patch we had a number or roadside fires occur, we investigated every fire that we knew about (some weren’t reported via VicFire), and provided a reports to the local detectives.
Given that our fire district covers multiple police districts, we ensured that all stakeholders were provided with reports to make sure that the key investigating detectives were across what was going on.
We also put up Crime Stoppers signs at a number of the scenes to ask the public for support to be vigilant of suspicious behaviour.
The other aspect is the link between fire investigation and fire safety. Over the years CFA has been responsible for the identification of many faulty appliances and pieces of equipment that have resulted in recalls.
The role that our State FI Coordinator (Nicole Harvey) does is critical in this area, being the person that reviews every fire Investigation report that is completed across CFA – every year. She is in a good position to review trends.
These trends can include fire fatalities, injuries and serious fires. If our systems are working properly, then if we are finding patterns in causation in the field then our community safety programs should often be working towards slowing down or mitigating emerging trends.
What can fire crews do to help preserve the scene?
Scene destruction often makes it really difficult for us, and this can often be avoided by fire crews not driving over the area of origin in a bushfire scenario, or blasting the guts out of the scene in a structural environment.
The rule of thumb (although simple) is that the area of origin is almost always in the burnt bit when you arrive on scene. Remind crews to be careful in these areas – in a bushfire environment try and get some tape out to protect area of origin if you can.
If you need to apply water to the area of origin (to prevent evidence from being consumed such as smouldering stumps etc.) then use a gentle fog pattern, set the branch up pointing away from the area so that the pattern is right before applying water to the area.
What would be your advice to anyone out there interested in becoming a fire investigator?
Finally, FI is a specialist field, to me it is interesting, and rewarding work that has a direct impact on our community.
Fire Investigation is not for everyone, there is a lot of study required, and to be on top of your game you need to keep up with regular changes in technology and training.
There are strict requirements for the quality and timeliness of the reports – they must be to a high standard and you really need to be passionate about being an investigator – it's not all beer and skittles!
But, if you think this is an area that you may be interested in, there is a FI section in Brigades Online to look at for further information, or contact your district Fire Investigation Coordinator through your District HQ.
Mark Collins is Operations Officer for the Golden Plains catchment in District 7.
READ PART ONE of the interview here.
READ PART TWO here