FIR 4315, Fire Investigation Technician 1
Course Learning Outcomes for Unit VII Upon completion of this unit, students should be able to:
2. Explain the rule of law as it pertains to arrest, search, and seizure. 2.1 Describe the local requirements for the arrest, search, and seizure during a fire investigation.
Learning Outcomes Learning Activity
Unit Lesson Chapter 9, pp. 179–186 Chapter 10, pp. 188–209 Article: “Risk, Arson and Abandonment” Unit VII Scholarly Activity
Required Unit Resources Chapter 9: Fire-Related Human Behavior, pp. 179–186 Chapter 10: Legal Considerations, pp. 188–209 In order to access the following resource, click the link below. Cloninger, D. O. (1981). Risk, arson and abandonment. Journal of Risk and Insurance, 48(3), 494–504.
Legal Considerations Concerning legal considerations regarding ability to conduct an investigation, the fire investigator needs to adapt the basic qualifications from NFPA 921 and NFPA 1033, which will assist the investigator in becoming an expert in fire investigation and cause determination. The fire investigator should not only focus on the field of fire investigation, but he or she will also learn the importance of understanding civil and criminal law and how it pertains to fire investigations. In some states, fire investigators are considered peace officers and are required to stay abreast of local, state, and federal laws associated with the crime of arson. Each investigator must determine what responsibilities are required in his or her state. The investigator needs to understand the definition of arson and how the crime is used to unlawfully and intentionally damage property, such as buildings, residences, vehicles, and watercrafts, by fire or explosion (International Association of Fire Chiefs [IAFC], International Association of Arson Investigators [IAAI], & National Fire Protection Association [NFPA], 2016). This is the primary crime that fire investigators will encounter while conducting their investigations. In most cases, arson is proven by circumstantial evidence that connects the defendant with the crime through both motive and opportunity. Many times, the motive of an arson fire is connected with criminal intent, such as insurance fraud, incendiary device, or the intent to cause harm to citizens or firefighters. The fire investigators need to understand where they get their authority from in order to conduct an investigation of the fire. Public sector investigators will most likely get their authority from the local, state, or federal law that applies to them at the time of the investigation. Most jurisdictions will have adopted a fire code
UNIT VII STUDY GUIDE Arrest, Search, and Seizure
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such as the International Fire Code, and within that document will be the requirement that all fires be investigated for the cause and origin and to determine the circumstances surrounding the fire. Private sector fire investigators will get their authority from the contract they have with an interested party, property owner, or insurance company. In most states, fire investigators have to be certified by the state to conduct investigations within the state; there are often exceptions such as insurance company employees or a person who is certified by a state that has reciprocity with the state where the fire occurred. Fire investigators need to understand how they have the right of entry onto the property where the fire has occurred. A reason why they are there and investigating the fire is paramount in making sure that any evidence found or conclusions reached are admissible in court when the case comes up for hearing. The easiest way to obtain the right of entry is through the consent of the person in control of the property at the time of the fire. This gives investigators permission to be there and allows them to access the property. Public sector investigators also have laws requiring them to find the cause and origin of any fire; this would require them to enter the dwelling to meet the duties that the law requires them to meet. There is also the exigent circumstance where the courts have deemed that a particular fire is a public safety emergency, and there needs to be action taken to make it safe for everyone, but this needs to occur within a reasonable timeframe. The next method of entry is the use of an administrative search warrant or criminal search warrant. These are obtained from a judge. The administrative search warrant requires that investigators stop their work once evidence of a crime is found, and investigators need to obtain a criminal search warrant to conduct any further inspection. Private investigators make entry based on express consent from the property owner or implied consent in the form of an insurance policy on the property. If the property owner refuses to allow the private investigator to enter then the insurance company, in most cases, can refuse to pay the claim. In an earlier unit, it was discussed how important witness interviews are to the investigation of the fire. Getting the statements from the witnesses as soon as possible while the information is fresh in their mind will allow for a better storyline to guide the investigator. An issue can arise if public sector investigators are not aware that they have to make sure that the witness understands his or her rights, especially under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. The Fifth Amendment covers the right to not be forced to incriminate oneself, and the Sixth Amendment gives the accused the right to know the charges against him or her and to have counsel available to assist. These issues need to be kept in mind when investigators are interviewing someone, and there is the possibility that he or she is guilty. The most important point that can be made here is to never make witnesses feel they have to tell you what happened. The other main issue is with the Fourth Amendment and the right to be free from unjust seizure. If the investigator tells a witness that he or she has to stay and answer questions, that will most likely be seen as detention. This is when the investigator must have reasonable suspicion that the person being detained has committed a crime. If the investigator knows beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect has committed a crime, then he or she may arrest the suspect. The issue here is for the investigator to be cautious when detaining people.
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Fire investigators, whether public or private, must ensure that they have the legal right to conduct a fire investigation. This includes being able to question a possible suspect and gather information concerning the seizing of physical evidence from the fire scene. Some of the basic forms of evidence come in physical, demonstrative, documentary, and testimonial forms (IAFC et al., 2019). Spoliation of physical evidence is a very important topic for any fire investigator. If the handling of evidence is not taken seriously, the evidence that is being used by the fire investigator during the prosecution phase could be removed from the court presentation. Additionally, those individuals involved in the spoliation of physical evidence can face criminal charges.
We will end this unit by visiting the two forms of witnesses. The first type is the layperson, and the second type is the professional expert witness. A layperson will testify about the facts that he or she knows or has experienced. The expert witness may bring a vast amount of knowledge concerning a fire’s ignition and will offer his or her opinion on the surrounding chain of events that led to the destruction of the structure or vehicle. Once the expert witness has been qualified by the court system, the individual is able to present both physical evidence and his or her opinions as related to the fire. As a fire investigator, you will learn to understand the importance of gathering information from the fire scene and conducting interviews with witnesses and suspects. All information gathered from interviews must be verified for credibility and accuracy concerning the fire scene and its cause and origin. This will include the name of the witness along with contact information so that he or she may be contacted later for further questioning or to testify in court. Obtaining this information can also assist in locating witnesses who may be affected by the fire for further questioning by the fire investigator or the insurance providers. There are various forms of information used to conduct an investigation. These forms of information include verbal, written, visual, and electronic. The spoken word is the most common and reliable, and it can be processed into a written document. Eyewitness face-to-face interviews may be recorded and transferred into a written form. In addition, a verbal or visual observation can be transcribed in electronic formats, such as on a computer or tablet (IAFC et al., 2019). Personal interviews need to be very well planned with considerations of safety and the surrounding environment. The investigators should also consider using audio or video recording for conversations, notes, and interviews. These recordings can later be transferred to written form for future reference in court testimony and for recalling the details of the fire investigation. This will be covered more in the next unit.
Fire-Related Human Behavior The final piece of this unit is discussing human behavior and how eyewitness reports help fire investigators piece together the cause and origin of the fire. Having a clear understanding of the behavior of humans both during and after a fire can help fire investigators during the interview process; however, the way in which individuals react can also tell the storyline of the fire. These individuals provide eyewitness accounts of the fire, which help fire investigators narrow down the possibilities of its cause. There are three main areas that are related to a fire's ignition point: improper maintenance and operation of equipment of various household appliances, careless human habits, and failure to follow proper instructions provided by the manufacturer (IAFC et al., 2019).
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Conclusion The fire investigator needs to have a firm understanding of the legal considerations of investigating fires, especially when interviewing suspects and witnesses. The need to understand why the investigator can conduct the investigation, how they can seize evidence, and what makes them an expert witness will all be important when conducting a fire investigation.
References International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Arson Investigators, & National Fire
Protection Association. (2019). Fire investigator: Principles and practice to NFPA 921 and 1033 (5th ed.). Jones & Bartlett.
Suggested Unit Resources In order to access the following resources, click the links below. This article discusses a follow-up study on an arson-related homicide in Australia after a five-year break. Ferguson, C., Doley, R., Watt, B., Lyneham, M., & Payne, J. (2015). Arson-associated homicide in Australia:
A five year follow-up (Document No. 484). In A. M. Tomison, Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice. https://libraryresources.columbiasouthern.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tsh&AN=108771108&site=ehost-live&scope=site
This article compares male and female juvenile fire setters (arsonists) and the similarities and differences
between them. Roe-Sepowitz, D., & Hickle, K. (2011). Comparing boy and girl arsonists: Crisis, family, and crime scene
characteristics. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 16(2), 277–288. http://search.ebscohost.com.libraryresources.columbiasouthern.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=70250134&site=ehost-live&scope=site
This article discusses the impact of abandoned houses and broken windows on the increase in crimes like arson. Thomas, D. S., Butry, D. T., & Prestemon, J. P. (2011). Enticing arsonists with broken windows and social
disorder. Fire Technology, 47(1), 255–273. https://libraryresources.columbiasouthern.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=asn&AN=56939825&site=ehost-live&scope=site
Learning Activities (Nongraded) Nongraded Learning Activities are provided to aid students in their course of study. You do not have to submit them. If you have questions, contact your instructor for further guidance and information. This is an opportunity for you to express your thoughts about the material you are studying by writing about it. Conceptual thinking is a great way to study because it gives you a chance to process what you have learned and increases your ability to remember it.
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Before completing your graded work, consider completing the “Case Study” and “On Scene” exercises for Chapters 9 and 10. Completing these exercises will help you with your graded work. The exercises can be found on the following page numbers: Chapter 9: “Case Study,” p. 178 Chapter 9: “On Scene,” p. 186 Chapter 10: “Case Study,” p. 188 Chapter 10: “On Scene,” pp. 209-210 If you have any questions or do not understand a concept contact your professor for clarification.
- Course Learning Outcomes for Unit VII
- Unit Lesson
- Legal Considerations
- Fire-Related Human Behavior
- Learning Activities (Nongraded)