Forensic Fire Investigations


Develop Litigation Strategy

As many investigators know, an early investigation of the scene is critical.  Indeed, capturing a comprehensive understanding of what occured and defining scope of work are necessary.  This needs to done while maintaining the scene integrity.  We, at WWFSE are experienced in the scientific method of investigating claims.  We also determine potential litigation opportunities and risks.

Analysis of Cause and Origin of Loss or Claim

In forensic fire investigation, there are two (2) key questions that a fire safety expert is expected to answer.  The first question is as to “what happened?.  The second key question is a follow up on the first question.  That question is “why did such a mishap occurred?”

Important points to remember:

  • Arrival at the scene is to arrange as soon as possible.
  • Some fire scenes may be contaminated requiring personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Preservation of the scene is of paramount importance

NFPA 921 is a respected guide for forensic fire investigations.  Even though the Guide was developed for Fire Investigators, many of its guidelines and procedures are useful to fire protection engineers and other disciplines.

Documentation of Claim

The typical way of documenting and capturing the facts in the case of a loss is via photos and videos.  Proper documentation is critical to be admissible in court if the litigation process ends in a trial or in an International Tribunal. It is of a paramount importance.  Proper documentation methods help avoid claims of spoliation of evidence.

Emergency Systems Investigation

At times, there is no opportunity to observe the scene of a loss in a timely manner.  Then, the only way to assist the investigation would be to focus on engineering analysis of the emergency system in place at the time.  This includes reviewing the design, including documentation of the required inspections, testing, and maintenance of fire and life safety systems.

Expert Reports and Exhibits

To assist in the understanding regarding the facts in a forensic fire investigation, a formal report and exhibits are generally required.  At times, the scope of the investigation leads itself to preparation of PowerPoint presentations.  As expected, these are necessary to properly document and explain facts and findings.

Benefit of Service

Given that any loss is undesirable, it is necessary to investigate before the scene loses integrity and any spoliation takes place.  This is to avoid the loss of key facts in the case.  The benefit of forensic investigations are:

  • Capturing facts leading to the loss
  • Documenting scene and potential causes
  • Performing an analysis of the emergency systems
  • Performing reviews of relevant documents
  • Communicating findings with clients
  • Developing findings via expert report(s)
  • Assisting in preparation for depositions and trials

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