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Newfoundland & Labrador find partner for fire investigation training

Newfoundland and Labrador Fire Commissioner Fred Hollett is like fire commissioners throughout all of Canada. He finds himself with more needs than he can handle. In fire fighting we all have needs. Some of these needs are more dreams than reality will allow, every department having all the equipment required to, as we say "quickly and efficiently put the fire out."

December 7, 2007
By Robert Lynch

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Newfoundland and Labrador Fire Commissioner Fred Hollett is like fire commissioners throughout all of Canada. He finds himself with more needs than he can handle. In fire fighting we all have needs. Some of these needs are more dreams than reality will allow, every department having all the equipment required to, as we say "quickly and efficiently put the fire out." A budget surplus, extra apparatus parked out back, fire halls filled with the best of everything on the market and equally important every fire fighter trained to the absolute best and the list goes on. Commissioner Hollett has a full province of needs and he wishes he could answer them all to everybody's satisfaction every day. Part of the trick to handing needs is prioritizing them into what we can and cannot realistically accomplish.

One of the major needs facing the Office of the Fire Commissioner is that of fire scene investigation. The direction in the fire prevention act states that the fire commissioner shall investigate the cause, origin and extenuating circumstances surrounding fires. Within the province of Newfoundland and Labrador present day reality dictates that all fires do not get the full and proper investigation that is required.

There are several reasons for this happening, availability of staff, police and certified investigators. Commissioner Hollett explained, "One of the pieces missing in conducting these investigations is limited staff at the Fire Commissioner's offices themselves, this combined with knowing that our fire investigations skills are not where they should be sends a clear signal that we have to address this problem. For several years we have recognized this weakness and last year we decided we have to make a move in a positive direction to enhance the skills of the first in fire investigators."

He continued, "We went looking for what we felt was required to meet this need and approached the Manitoba Office of the Fire Commissioner, who in turn put us onto the Emergency Services College in Brandon. We've found that they have a very modern program being used in several other jurisdictions throughout the country."

The Emergency Services College provides three levels of training for fire investigators. Attendance is restricted to police/fire or persons having statutory authority/responsibility for the investigation of fires/explosions.

The three courses cover all requirements of NFPA 1033 "Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator" and use NFPA 921 "Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations" as one of the main textbooks. These courses will provide comprehensive skills, which are useful in fire cause determination investigations.

After completing the three levels, the Investigator may then complete the steps to become an Accredited Fire Investigator. This part of the program meets the requirements of NFPA 1033 "Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator" and is accredited with the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress. (Fire Investigation Level I, Fire Investigation Level II, Fire Investigation Level III, and Fire Investigator – NFPA 1033.)

Fred concluded, "We have forged a partnership arrangement between both Fire Commissioner's Offices and we have been able to tap into resources they have that we don't. Subsequently we have been able to acquire the services of their Manager for Operations East, Mr. Rick Vanderkerhove. Our staff conducted training in Level 1, Rick came in an conducted Level 2 and Level 3 instruction and we are going to have him back in September to do the testing and certification for the entire program."

The Level III program is a week of scenario based fire investigations. Members are broken down into teams and are assigned to investigate the cause and origin of an actual fire. The basis of the scenarios is to use the "Scientific Method" of Investigation and also to re-affirm the "Team approach" to Fire Investigations. This includes all the players involved, being the police, fire fighters, fire investigators and other professional resources as required.

Instructor Rick Vanderkerhove said, "The Office of the Fire Commissioner- Manitoba has and continues to enjoy an excellent working relationship with the Office of the Fire Commissioner- Newfoundland. I was assigned to assist their Office through Derek Simmons and to present our Fire Investigation Program. The program has been developed to train and develop Fire Investigators in the Scientific Method of Fire Investigations, and to follow NPFA 1033 qualifications for the Certification of Fire Investigations issued by IFSAC.

The course included members from the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Investigators from the OFC. The teams were broken down so that each team was represented by a cross of each section. Within a very short time the teams have jelled into a cohesive unit and in fact a good-natured rivalry occurred between each of the teams. The members used the "Scientific Method" in their investigations and completed the investigations with the proper conclusions to the origin and cause of the specific fire investigations assigned to them.

Rick concluded "On a personal note, I enjoyed my time with the members, have learned from them and look forward to returning in the fall of 2006 to complete the program with the Certification of the initial group. Once the Certification process has been successfully completed the OFC-Newfoundland will continue to Offer the program with their own instructors, and using our office as a resource."


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