Arson investigators work for a fire or police department. They also work
for private investigators and insurance companies.
If the cause of a fire can't be determined, an officer calls an arson investigator.
These are highly trained people who comb over the fire scene. They search
for clues as to how and where a fire started.
Upon arriving at the scene, investigators interview the fire crew that
arrived at the fire first to find out where the fire was when they got there.
Investigators then trace the progression of fire through the structure.
"It's a process of elimination where you determine where the fire did not
start," Don Braziel says. He is an arson investigator. "[It's] working back
to the seat of the fire."
Once they find the seat, they examine the area for clues as to what might
have caused the fire. They look for faulty wiring, burned lamp cords, melted
oven fuses, traces of accelerant (a substance used to accelerate the spreading
of a fire) and other clues that might tell them how the fire started.
Amy Krise is from an arson unit. She says she must photograph, document,
diagram, collect evidence and write a detailed report of a fire scene.
Investigators take statements from victims, witnesses and even suspects.
Krise says the suspects she interviews are often dangerous and suspected of
Arson investigators have to be familiar with the process of gathering evidence
to be presented in court. Some are involved in various fire prevention and
arson awareness programs.
"If arrests are necessary, they make sure all the paperwork is in order,"
Braziel says. "They take care of the arrest if it goes to court. They follow
the case through the court system until the individual is convicted or released."
They spend most of their time in the field investigating different types
of fires to structures, homes or commercial buildings.
Arson investigators must be in fair physical shape. This job involves digging
through damaged buildings.
Inspecting the scene may be impossible for someone in a wheelchair. However,
that doesn't mean they can't do other parts of the job.
"A person in a wheelchair can help in the investigation in any number of
ways. For example, they can work in a lab testing materials. Or they can interview
witnesses," explains John Putinsky. He works with an association of fire investigators.
Typically, arson investigators work 40 hours a week. Often, they work 10-hour
days and are occasionally on call.