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Fire Investigations - The Importance of an Engineer

On the Scene E-Newsletter, Edition 104, November 11, 2009

Accurately determining fire cause and origin requires the disciplines of fire dynamics as well as engineering. Many assume a Certified Fire Investigator with years of experience, training and expertise would be sufficient, but that is not always the case. Over the past few years insurance companies and lawyers have become more vigilant by hiring well-trained and well-equipped professional engineering experts to provide inclusive investigations when determining cause and origin of fire-related cases.

Combined with scientific and engineering principles, CED experts (who serve as additional fire investigators) use a systematic approach to the investigation and analysis of fire and explosion related incidents. Our engineers have experience investigating fires in various disciplines such as marine, electrical, mechanical and civil and can consult and provide expert witness testimony in the following areas:

•  Origin and Cause Determination

•  Evidence Collection/Storage

•  Laboratory Analysis/Testing

•  Engineering (Electrical and Mechanical) Evaluation

Our engineers are fully trained and licensed, have received specific fire investigation training and are Certified Fire and Explosion Investigators (CFEI) from the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI). Our experts follow a meticulous approach to fire investigation, as well as evidence collection and storage. All of our experts use state-of-the art, equipment such as temperature measuring, recording equipment, and carbon monoxide sampling meters for analyzing material properties and accelerants.

Every year there are thousands of fire investigations in the United States. Without technical or engineering input a fire investigation may cease with conclusions that are incomplete or incorrect. For example, CED was asked to investigate an automobile fire that was initially labeled as an electrical fire. When our expert arrived on the scene to examine the vehicle, the interior components had already been removed. Our engineer meticulously reconstructed the entire vehicle cabin to determine the area of origin. All original equipment and custom electrical components were examined and tested. Furthermore, CED was able to conclude that the fire was not caused by any of the vehicle systems.

Knowledge built on technically defensible data is only one part of what is needed to successfully investigate a fire scene. CED's experts provide the technical edge in:

•  Fire pattern recognition

•  Fire behavior and spread

•  Timeline determination

•  Product design and failure mode analysis

•  Building construction and material considerations

•  Interpretation of fire codes and standards

Since fire often destroys clue-yielding material, expert engineers need to stand ready to build exemplar products or scale reproductions in order to reconstruct the scene. Experience in both technical and legal realms is needed to develop, design and perform relevant and credible tests. At CED our expert engineers have the experience, as well as the impressive reputation, gained from over 20 years of professional services.

CED Investigative Technologies Inc. has been investigating accidents and providing forensic engineering services for over 24 years but an area where potential clients contact CED and still seem uncertain is when an accident involves an Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) violation.  OSHA was created in 1970 to prevent work-related accidents, illness and death by creation of regulations and subsequent enforcement.  Workplaces including farms, factories, construction sites and marine terminals need to comply with OSHA regulations to make the environment safe for workers.  When accidents involving death or injuries to more than one person happen, OSHA field officers are required to investigate.  The OSHA investigator will determine if the facility and employer were in compliance with appropriate OSHA regulations, and may issue citations if problems are found.  In some cases the regulations violated will relate directly to the cause of the accident.  However, citations may also be issued for violation of regulations unrelated to the accident.

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