Unlike firefighters, fire investigators are the last people to attend and leave a scene, with the fire, cameras and action often a distant memory.
Tasked with assessing and analysing the burnt remnants of an incident, fire investigators often painstakingly comb through the charred remains of rooms, buildings and wide open spaces, battling weather and conditions that are constantly deteriorating the scene, making their task even harder.
The aftermath of a house fire
Every second counts as the elements erode the scene and accurate analysis is the difference between fires being effectively investigated to determine the origin and cause of the fire, evidence collected, fire trends being identified, and detailed Fire Investigation Reports being completed for insurance claims for farmers and families to help repair their often shattered lives. Thankfully, CFA and the community are in safe hands, with State Fire Investigation Coordinator Nicole Harvey exemplifying CFA’s values and rightfully being commended at the inaugural Spirit of CFA Awards held in Ballarat recently, winning the individual award for Interagency and Group Cooperation.
“What drew me to into becoming a fire investigator was the ability to create a significant impact in people’s lives when they are often at their weakest and most vulnerable," Nicole said. “When you see people going through what remains of their lives in the form of ashes and debris, you can’t help but want to reach out and lend a hand. Thankfully, CFA has given me a great opportunity to do just that across the entire emergency services and really make a difference.”
As part of the Victorian Fire Investigation Inter-Agency Agreement, the CFA Fire Investigation Section works with agencies such as:
- Coroners Court of Victoria
- Victoria Police - Arson & Explosives Squad, Criminal Investigation Units and Forensic Services
- Emergency Management Victoria
- Metropolitan Fire Brigade
- Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
- Energy Safe Victoria
- Work Safe Victoria
Nicole’s work has impacted not only CFA but Victoria’s emergency services as a whole, and together this enhanced cooperation capability has successfully resulted in:
- Community Fire Safety / Education Programs and Media Campaigns
- Information provided to Victoria Police for the prosecution of individuals for acts of criminal damage by fire or arson related offences
- Identification and referral of children onto the Juvenile Fire Awareness and Intervention Program (JFAIP)
- Modernised operational firefighter training
- Potential firefighting hazards identified and issued through Safety Alerts and Operations Bulletins
- Product Safety Recalls of accessories, appliances, equipment, vehicles, etc.
- Supportive evidence to evaluate legislation, standards, regulations and codes
CFA is one of many agencies involved in fire investigations.
There is a lot of science and planning that goes into an effective investigation. Burn patterns, samples, and eye witness testimony are all valuable tools in determining the cause and origin of fire. These skills are meticulously learned and honed over decades, and to help ensure Victoria is equipped with expert fire investigators for future generations, Nicole also teaches the next generation.
Fire had entered the roof space of a house, causing the ceiling to collapse in the kitchen.
“Constantly teaching our next generation the traditional and emerging diagnostic methods, techniques and technologies to become fire investigators, is crucial in making sure our communities remain safe,” Nicole said.
In typical selflessness, Nicole dedicated this award to her colleagues. “I’d also like to recognise the dedication, support and assistance of the CFA District Fire Investigation Coordinators, Fire Investigation Team Leaders and Fire Investigators who attend fire scenes to conduct investigations into the origin and cause of the fires across Victoria and their important involvement in the delivery of the CFA Fire Investigation Program.”
On behalf of CFA, thank you Nicole for all the outstanding work you have done and continue to do.
Author: Dylan Cabrie-foote