Firefighters earn certification as fire investigators

Published 3:58 pm Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Two Picayune Fire Fighters were trained and certified in the art of fire investigation after attending a recent class held in Jackson.

John A. Mitchell and Douglas Saul are now certified fire investigators and can conduct those investigations nationwide.

From April 9 to April 20, they were in Jackson taking an 80 hour course in fire investigation.

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One aspect of the course had Saul and Mitchell involved in two autopsies. One autopsy involved an individual who was shot by Tennessee police and the other body was involved in a vehicle fire, Saul said. Now that they have had the training, Saul and Mitchell’s presence will most likely be required during future autopsies involving fire related deaths so they can take pictures, Saul said.

Another part of the course had them involved in something they were more familiar with, fires. They participated in four fire investigations in the Jackson area, three of which were in the same city block, Saul said.

The training also covered what to look for during a fire scene investigation, Saul said.

Fire scene investigation involves being able to know what to look for, such as where the fire originated based on the clues left behind. Those clues could include where the fire burned, burn patterns and marks where furniture was before firefighters arrived, Mitchell said.

While fighting a fire, most firefighters will reduce the amount of smoke in the structure by removing smoldering furniture, Mitchell said. Investigators can effectively put the scene back together by noting unburned places in the carpet, marks where furniture was sitting on the carpet during the fire.

Investigations are not limited to structures. Mitchell said they also were taught how to investigate woods fires, grass fires and automobile fires to determine cause and origin.

“It makes a lot of things come to light once you look at it,” Saul said.

The two firefighters also learned interviewing techniques, including what to look for in body language, if stories of multiple witnesses match and if it appeared as though someone was covering something up, Mitchell said.

“I would say that half is interviewing and the other half is the actual investigation,” Saul said.

Now that they have completed the training, they are certified to conduct fire investigations anywhere in the country.

“It’s one of the best classes I’ve taken up there,” Saul said.

The course work was taught by Chief Durfie Burns and covered fire chemistry, fire dynamics, analysis of fire patterns, determining fire cause and origins, fire fighting operations, investigation of fire scenes and explosions, safety, recognizing hazardous materials, legal consideration of fire scene investigation, interview and interrogation techniques, and how to prepare an arson case for courtroom presentation. Classes were held in Pearl, which is near Jackson, at the Mississippi State Fire Academy.