NFPA now requires an investigator to have minimum, basic training of fire investigation beyond the high school level. Failure to thoroughly understand and follow NFPA and the changes it experienced in can leave you with the unfortunate consequence of having paid for an expert you cannot use. While only a high school diploma is technically needed, well-written and convincing fire investigation reports often benefit by some advanced education as well.
Although this is not always the case, the cheaper an expert, the more likely it is the expert will be unqualified. If your origin expert cannot affirmatively identify the origin of a fire, ask him or her not to author a report. Under no circumstances should the origin expert indicate an ability or inability to identify the cause of a fire. Unless it is a small fire and you are going to rely on an unqualified origin expert to prove the cause of your fire, he or she should leave the cause for more qualified personnel. Positively and convincingly identifying the origin of a fire is a necessary step in identifying its cause.
Therefore, great care should be taken in locating and selecting an origin expert. The cause expert takes up where the origin expert leaves off. The industry standard today is to find the origin of a fire before its cause. The origin of a fire is one of the most important hypotheses that an investigator develops and tests during the investigation.
Generally, if the origin cannot be determined, the cause cannot be identified, the subsequent cause determination will also be incorrect. The origin of a fire is determined by using witness information, fire patterns, arc mapping and fire dynamics. If an opposing origin expert is unable to eliminate multiple alternative possible areas of origin a popular technique intended to shed doubt on the opinion of an expert who has narrowed the origin down to one location , the industry standard for determining the origin of fires has been to first determine the area of origin of the fire and then to determine and eliminate the potential causes of the fire within that single area of fire origin, concluding into a final cause of the fire.
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An origin expert with multiple possible areas of origin will not be able to conclude a final cause of the fire. A fire cause is only reliable if the origin has been correctly identified and a target defendant can only be identified if we know the cause. Engineering experts play a key role in proving the actual cause of a fire. Electrical, mechanical and chemical engineers are often necessary to arrive at a provable cause of a fire. Getting the most out of this expert from the initial call to your expert, through the evidence examination and during dispositive motions and trial means knowing how, when, and to what extent your expert can and should be involved in the case.
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Where a product defect is involved, some jurisdictions require an expert to not only identify the defect and its link to the fire, but also to arrive at a reasonable alternative design which the manufacturer could and should have been able to utilize without affecting the utility of the suspect product. NFPA strongly suggests that all interested parties be placed on notice of any scene inspections so that all parties have an opportunity to retain experts and see the evidence in its pristine condition. NFPA , Ch.
Proper notice also minimizes claims of spoliation. Refer to this chart on the laws of spoliation in all 50 states.
Origin and Cause
The purpose of an inspection is to collect data and preserve evidence that will aid the expert in determining the origin and cause of the fire. Physical evidence should be recognized, documented, properly collected, and preserved by your expert for further testing and evaluation.
Your expert s should use field notes, written reports, sketches, diagrams, and photographs. However, it is always a good idea to tell your expert not to reduce his or her opinion to written form until you have had a chance to discuss it. A written report in will look deficient in after many more facts have been uncovered during litigation.
Clients love to get a written report in the hopes of quickly settling a subrogation file without engaging subrogation counsel and the fees that come with them. Simply having your expert indicate in the report that it is subject to revision suggests that the expert was all too eager to give an opinion the client wanted rather than waiting until all the relevant evidence was available. All too often we see large property subrogation files with negative expert reports in the file. All physical evidence should be marked or labeled for identification at the time of collection; the expert s should maintain a list of all evidence removed and who removed it.
The chain of custody should be properly documented. Once evidence has been removed from the scene, it should be properly maintained and not destroyed or altered until other parties of interest have been notified. And, be prepared for the usual defense tactic of blaming whatever evidence you decided not to secure. You get what you pay for. Thrifty and parsimonious decisions when it comes to retaining an expert have a way of ensuring that you are simply throwing good money after bad.
Obviously, an expensive expert should not be used on a small subrogation file, and some smaller claims may require an origin expert to also serve as a cause expert. In general, however, the decision you make regarding experts is the most significant decision you will make in the case, and one you and your subrogation counsel will have to live with. The wrong expert can destroy a good subrogation file, while the right expert can breathe life into a bad one.
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IGNISOC - Fire Origin and Cause Determination
Why EFI? Origin and Cause Determining the origin and cause of a fire loss can be a daunting challenge given the fact that fire can mask or destroy most of its own evidence. Find an expert Get in touch with one of our experts around the world, who will be happy to discuss your business needs. United States Find. Print this page. Email Please complete this simple form and our expert will be in touch very soon.