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Research study contains key findings for fire investigators

Posted: Oct. 22, 2020

New research shows how understanding the impact of ventilation on fire patterns can aid arson investigations.

: Harry Garvin, Los Angeles Fire Department

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) researchers, supported by the National Institute of Justice, recently conducted a series of experiments on fire patterns and damage that fire investigators need to know about.

Study experiments

Understand the effects of ventilation on fire damage and patterns

Many variables, such as an open door or window, affect how fires progress and grow. UL conducted a series of experiments on fires to find out how ventilation influences the fire pattern. Findings show that separate and distinct fire patterns are generated by ventilation-controlled burning conditions in a structure.

Understanding the impact of ventilation on fire patterns can aid arson investigations.

Misreading fire patterns and incorrectly identifying them as arson can lead to unnecessary prosecution and jail time for a crime that didn’t actually occur.

Lack of knowledge of post-flashover and ventilation-controlled fire damage by fire investigators has resulted in unwarranted prosecutions and incarcerations for arson.

More research and education is needed to ensure fewer fires are unnecessarily ruled as arson.

Characterize electrical system response to study fire progression

Also studied was how fire progression may be gauged from damage to electrical wiring. Using six different types of cords, researchers found that all eventually lost their insulation and tripped their power circuits. Physical damage was similar among the cords regardless of the type of circuit protections used.

Application of study findings

The National Fire Academy will incorporate findings from this study into its training courses for fire investigators. In addition, findings were shared with other professional development organizations and National Fire Protection Association fire investigation technical committees.

This article is based on content in the
Oct. 22, 2020 InfoGram.

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