Fire Inspectors and Investigators

Most fire departments are responsible for fire-prevention activities. Fire inspectors inspect buildings and their storage contents for trash, rubbish, and other materials that can ignite easily. They look for worn-out or exposed wiring and for other fire hazards. Inspectors review building and fire-suppression plans to ensure the construction of safe and code-conforming buildings and fire-suppression systems and alarms. They pay close attention to public buildings, such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes, theaters, and hotels, which they inspect regularly. Fire inspectors also ensure that the facility's fire-protection equipment and systems are properly functioning. While inspecting buildings, they might make recommendations on how fire-safety equipment could be used better and provide information regarding the storage of flammable materials, electrical hazards, and other common causes of fires.

Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists are specially trained professionals who assess and identify fire hazards in both residential and public areas that may cause danger to wildlife and forest areas, recommend ways to reduce the fire hazard, and report fire conditions to central command.

Inspectors maintain a variety of reports and records related to fire inspections, code requirements, permits, and training. They also instruct employers, civic groups, schoolchildren, and others on extinguishing small fires, escaping burning buildings, operating fire extinguishers, and establishing evacuation plans.

Fire investigators, or fire marshals, look for evidence pointing to the causes of fires. Once fires are extinguished, especially if they are of suspicious origin or cause death or injury, investigators look for evidence of arson, that is, fires that are deliberately set for insurance money or other reasons. Investigators determine whether the fire was incendiary (arson) or accidental, and then try to figure out what caused it and how to prevent it. This information is very important to the fire-protection community. In cases of arson it is the investigator's responsibility to collect information or evidence that can be used to prosecute the fire starter. For example, the investigator must determine what fuel was used to start the fire and in the process may discover devices that were also used. Investigators may submit reports to a district attorney, testify in court, or arrest suspected arsonists (if investigators have police authority). Investigators also gather information from accidental fires to determine where and how the fire started and how it spread. This is important information because it can be used to prevent similar fires in the future.

Fire investigators also interrogate witnesses, obtain statements and other necessary documentation, and preserve and examine physical and circumstantial evidence. They tour fire scenes and examine debris to collect evidence. They also send evidence to laboratories to be tested for fingerprints or an accelerant. Investigators prepare comprehensive reports, provide detailed accounts of investigative procedures, and present findings. They apprehend and arrest arson suspects, as well as seek confinement and control of fire setters and juveniles who set fires. Investigators also prepare damage estimates for reporting and insurance purposes and compile statistics related to fires and investigations.

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