VIDEO: Is Your Fire Expert Prepared?

Is your fire expert properly educated and qualified according to NFPA 1033? Is he or she prepared to carry out a proper investigation? Can this person defend his or her professional qualifications? If you answered no to any of these questions, it is time to seek additional training for your fire expert on staff, Kirk Ney, certified fire investigator and owner of Ney Forensic Science LLC, told attendees of AEM’s 2017 Product Safety & Compliance Seminar.

NFPA 1033 is the standard for professional qualifications for a fire investigator, and lawyers aren’t afraid to use it against your expert in a deposition or a trial. New technology is changing the field of fire investigation, and it is more important than ever to stay on top of the latest trends.

The standard is just a baseline requirement, and your fire expert should maintain at a minimum an up-to-date basic knowledge of the following topics beyond the high school level:

  • fire science
  • fire chemistry
  • thermodynamics
  • thermometry
  • fire dynamics
  • explosion dynamics
  • computer fire modeling
  • fire investigation
  • fire analysis
  • fire investigation methodology
  • fire investigation technology
  • hazardous materials
  • failure analysis and analytical tools
  • fire protection systems
  • evidence documentation, collection and preservation
  • electricity and electrical systems

Make sure your fire expert is thoroughly educated on each category, and has the requisite skills to perform a proper investigation. There are a variety of options available for your fire expert to remain current in his or her training and methodology, including formal education courses, workshops and seminars, as well as professional publications and journals. In addition, all fire experts should have a copy of NFPA 1033 accessible at all times. NFPA 1033 is a standard and there is no room for non-compliance.

Providing an Expert Testimony

Your fire expert should be prepared to explain the details of each investigation to others, including attorneys. NFPA 1033 identifies the job performance requirements for the duties, requisite knowledge and requisite skills fire investigators must possess. This includes scene examination, scene documentation, evidence collection and preservation, interviewing witnesses, post-incident investigation and the presentation of the findings.

There are four key requirements your fire expert must be able to meet when providing a testimony:

  1. The testimony must be based on sufficient facts or data.
  2. The testimony must be a product or reliable principles and methods.
  3. The principles and methods must be reliably applied to the facts of the case.
  4. The principles and/or methodology must be relevant to the facts of the case.

According to certified fire investigator Doug Ross, “Expert testimony focuses on technical issues that are normally outside of the knowledge and understanding of jury members in an attempt to make the testimony easier to understand.” Those who practice fire investigation regularly take for granted the knowledge and terminology they have become accustom to using. “The fire expert witness is allowed to ‘school’ the jury with opinions and hypothetical examples normally not allowed by lay witnesses.”

The judge will make the final distinction if your fire expert has the proper education, training and skills to qualify as an expert witness, and the fire expert must be qualified each time he or she testifies. Your fire expert needs continual training and education on the current practices of fire investigation so he or she is prepared for both the scene of the investigation and the courtroom.

More Information

The 2018 Product Safety & Compliance Seminar and Product Liability Seminar will be held at the Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort in Lincolnshire, Illinois from April 23-26, 2018. For more information on the Product Safety & Compliance and Product Liability seminars, contact Nathan Burton, AEM technical and safety services manager (nburton@aem.org, tel: 414-298-4126).

For more information on training resources for your fire expert, visit www.cfitrainer.net.

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