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Behind the scenes with Fire Investigator Mark
CFA News chatted this week to Fire Investigator Mark Collins about the hows and whys behind fire investigation: Part One
Mark, how does an incident controller know when to call in a fire investigator?
One of the many legislative requirements of our Incident Controllers is to “report on the origin and cause of the fire”
This report may occur in a rage of formats – often it is as simple as a determination made by the incident controller through the normal FIRS report.
The Incident Controller needs to be sure that they have correctly identified the cause of the fire – and this regularly happens out in the field in situations where the cause is obvious or easily determined.
What we need to think about though, if we use the example of a house fire, is the ramifications of getting the cause determination wrong.
This could have a devastating effect on the home owner, ranging from a delay in paying out the claim or not paying out at all.
Put yourself in the shoes of the homeowner – they are potentially going through the worst day of their lives, they will want to know what went wrong and why.
My rule of thumb for the need to call in an investigator is – if you wouldn’t be comfortable to defend your determination in a witness box under cross examination, then you probably need an investigator - “You Honour – I reckon it started here” won’t cut it in Court!
You won’t need an investigator for every job – but if you’re not sure, a quick chat with the RDO should point you in the right direction.
The bottom line is – if you’re unsure of the cause then ask for an investigator via VicFire.
What if the fire is suspicious?
CFA works within the Victorian Fire Investigation Policy and Procedure document, which identifies the roles of each agency given a range of situations.
If the fire is clearly suspicious then VicPol are responsible (have primacy) of the investigation. We often work closely with Victoria Police Forensic Chemists during the scene examination. It's a team environment and we have a great working relationship with these experienced and talented people.
If, during the scene examination, the cause is determined to be non-suspicious, then the CFA investigator will then be responsible for producing the primary report – that's some of the reason we work together.
What happens when you arrive at a scene?
If I’m not already in my trusty blue overalls, I’ll don my PPC and get the Investigators tools of trade together – camera, log book and other paperwork etc. Then, I make contact with the IC to let him or her know I’m on scene. If it is safe to proceed then we will begin the investigation process.
What support is out there for brigades and ICs in this field?
Fire Investigation is a specialist field, and each District has a Fire Investigation Coordinator (DFIC) who can provide information about arranging Fire Investigation Awareness Training and brigade or group level sessions on how to protect and preserve a fire scene.
Mark Collins is Operations Officer for the Golden Plains catchment in District 7.
READ PART TWO HERE.