Fire Expert – “Times Have Changed”
Robert L. Rowe, CFI/PI Pyrocop, Inc.
The science of fire… Sounds intriguing doesn’t it? Every time I tell someone about what it is I do for a living I pretty much get the same response. “Very interesting…So you do what Robert De Niro did in the movie “Backdraft”? For those of you who’ve seen the movie, De Niro played the role of Donald Rimgale aka “Shadow” who was a fire expert for the Chicago Fire Department and who not only played a bit part in the movie, but was also a technical advisor for the film.
Since its release back in 1991, “Backdraft” would now require a new breed of fire experts. “Shadow” would have to consider a standard of care set forth in the National Fire Protection Association’s “Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations” (NFPA 921) and “Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator” (NFPA 1033). Based on the provisions outlined in NFPA 921 and 1033, today’s “fire expert” requires a much broader knowledge base and technical background in fire behavior, fire science, fire codes and must conduct his or her fire investigation using a “systematic” or “scientific” approach.
You can ask just about every “fire expert” across the country about the changes that have occurred in the “fire expert” business, and you will quickly realize that much is required of them personally, on the fire scene and in the courtroom. In other words the days of “Backdraft” are long gone.
So when did the role of fire expert really begin? After conducting a little research, I found that people began taking “bad fires” seriously as far back as 1450-1410 BC. In Exodus 22:6 (New International Version) Moses writes “If a fire breaks out and spreads to thorn bushes, so that stacked grain or the standing grain or the field itself is consumed, he who started the fire shall surely make restitution.”. In other words, through eyewitness accounts, confessions or possibly even a formal investigation using the basic “who, what, where, when, why and how” methodology, those responsible for setting reckless fires were sought out by the early “fire experts” and held accountable for their careless actions.
In today’s litigious society, much more is required to prove guilt or negligence when fires occur. A fire expert must be able to make a determination as to why a fire (or explosion) has occurred and report their findings and recommendations using the aforementioned “Scientific” methodology. This includes, recognizing the problem, defining the problem, collecting data, analyzing the data, developing a hypothesis and finally proving the hypothesis.
Gone are the days of gut feelings and “hand me down” theories as to how fires start and spread. The role of a fire expert nowadays most often involves much more. Therefore it is essential that fire experts are familiar with and follow the guidelines of NFPA 921 to insure that each investigation is conducted in a consistent manner and that all aspects of a given fire scene are properly addressed.
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