Safely investigating fire scenes
Although the focus of any fire investigation is to determine where the fire started, what the ignition source was and how the fire spread in the way that it did, the most important aspect of any investigation is safety. There exist many risks on any fire scene, no matter its size, and the focus of establishing the cause of the fire can sometimes mean that safety is overlooked. Fire scenes are dangerous places. The structural integrity of buildings has often been compromised resulting in the very real risk that the building could collapse. Obviously, it is vital that fire scene investigators confirm the stability of buildings before setting foot inside them. The risk of electric shock from exposed electrical cables and gas leaks from damaged pipework require fire investigators to ensure that services have been suitably isolated before commencing any scene investigation. Fire debris presents many risks to the investigator such as broken glass, charred wood and plastics, plasterboard, asbestos and sometimes, tragically, human remains. For this reason, investigators wear full personal protective equipment including boots, overalls, helmets, safety spectacles, gloves, and respirators..
Fire scene risks
The risk from sharp objects, airborne dust and other particles, chemical hazards and biological contaminants pose a high level of risk to the unwary investigator. It is all too easy to remove a helmet if it becomes cumbersome or take off an uncomfortable respirator but investigators should avoid complacency at all costs. The result of inhaling contaminated airborne particles or contact with human bodily fluids, for example, can lead to both acute or chronic health problems. In addition, serious or fatal injuries are a real possibility if live electrical cables or unstable structures are not properly made safe.
Fire scene risk assessment
Virtually all injuries sustained at fire scenes appear to result from a few common reasons, and unfortunately, these incidents could have been avoided. Typical mistakes made by those working at fire scenes are: Poor attitude to safety, working when tired and not recognising the need to take a break, poor maintenance of personal protective equipment, a lack of training, failing to recognise warning signs, not carrying out a proper scene risk assessment, failing to follow procedures or to confirm safety measures already in place, relaxing too soon and allowing complacency to set in and lastly, the belief that ‘it won’t happen to me’. No fire investigation is worth getting hurt for and fire investigation scene safety should be at the top of the priority list for any fire investigator.