Blaze Fire Investigation Blog

As an industry leader, BlazeFire fire investigators combine industry best practices with scientific knowledge, proven methodologies and experiential skill to deliver sound origin and cause opinions. We have years of experience finding the origin and cause of Structural, Vehicle, Marine and Hazardous Environment fires.

Industries we serve include Insurance, Legal and Manufacturing. Our consultations cover Large Loss Operations, Case Reviews and Code Interpretation.

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Posted by on in Case Reviews
Lithium Ion Batteries: Cause or Victim?

Lithium Ion batteries are ubiquitous in today’s electronic environment.  Everything from cell phones to hoverboards to electric vehicles run on Lithium Ion batteries.  This type of battery is attractive to manufacturers because of its relatively high specific energy.   This means there is more energy per unit of mass in a Lithium Ion battery than there is in other types of batteries.  The high specific energy is great for packing a lot of power into a small package.  But upon failure, that same energy can be released in a dangerous fashion.

 

In that way, the Lithium Ion battery is not unlike other electrical failures.  We know that electrical failure in an appliance or circuit can cause a fire.  We also know that in a fire environment, the breakdown of insulation systems can cause an electrical failure on a circuit or appliance.  During a fire investigation, an investigation team has to determine if the evidence of failure noted after the fire was a cause of the fire or a victim of the fire.

 

Similarly, a Lithium Ion battery can fail and cause a fire or it can fail due to being attacked by a fire.  

 

There have been well documented failure modes of Lithium Ion batteries that result in a thermal run-away condition.  The thermal run-away condition can result in a pressure build-up internal to the battery cell that is relieved by a venting with flame.  The heat generated in the battery cell can ignite near-by combustible materials such as a plastic housing.  Even more dangerous is the possibility of the battery cell contents being expelled under pressure causing the flaming battery to rocket across a room and ignite combustible materials. 

 

However, when a Lithium Ion battery is subjected to fire temperature, these same failures can occur.  The fire temperatures induce a short in the battery and the energy that remains in the battery is dissipated, sometimes with spectacular results.  The shorting of the battery cell due to being attacked by a fire can cause the cell to expand, can cause the cell to vent with flame, and can cause the cell contents to be expelled.

 

After a fire it is difficult to tell if the damage to the Lithium Ion batteries indicates that they caused the fire or were a victim of the fire.  The investigation team must apply the same type of methodology to the Lithium Ion battery evidence as it does to evidence of more traditional electrical failures.  In order to determine if the batteries caused the fire, other questions must be answered.

 

1.       Is there physical evidence that the batteries failed?

2.       Were the batteries located at the point of fire origin?

3.       Can all other possible causes of the fire be eliminated?

 

If the investigation team can answer yes to these three questions, they are well on the way to an opinion that the Lithium Ion batteries failed and caused the fire.

 

 

 

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  Lithium Ion battery pack that was fully discharged and burned in a fire.  Note that the cells remained largely intact and did not expand.  This is due to the relatively low energy remaining in the cells at the time of the fire.

 

 

 

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Expanded Lithium Ion battery cell and expelled Lithium Ion battery cell.  These are examples of battery cells that were fully charged at the time they were burned in a fire.

 

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Posted by on in Welcome

 

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It started out as a beautiful summer day.  On this particular day, the home owner decided to take their dog for a walk, open the windows to let some fresh air into the house, and then clean the oven. The oven was part of a Frigidaire brand gas range. Since this range featured a self-cleaning oven option, the owner thought the task at hand would be a breeze.

A self-cleaning oven cleans itself with very high temperatures, which then reduces the soil inside the oven to a fine powdered ash that can be wiped away. The temperature reached during a self-cleaning cycle (900 degrees Fahrenheit) is much higher than normal cooking temperatures which are between 170 to 550 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The owner followed the manufacture instructions and started the self-cleaning cycle on her oven. This cycle was set to last three hours.  Approximately an hour and a half later the owner was in the living room and started to smell smoke.  At the same time the home smoke detector started sounding.  The owner followed the smoke smell to the kitchen.  Upon entering the kitchen, the owner saw heavy smoke and fire emanating from the left side of their gas range.  In a panic she grabbed the phone and called 9-1-1. The fire department arrived quickly and put the fire out.  Luckily for the owner, fire damage was limited to the immediate area around the oven.

Blaze Fire Investigation was called out to the scene to examine the gas range and determine the cause of the fire.  Our investigators interviewed the homeowner and performed a complete examination of the fire scene.  The only ignition source found in the area of fire origin was the Frigidaire brand gas range.  The range was collected and examined in a laboratory setting.

An examination in the laboratory showed an intense burn pattern on the left exterior side of the oven. An examination of the inside of the oven compartment showed very little fire damage.  The outer metal housing of the oven was removed.  The insulation surrounding the oven compartment was heavily burned and soot stained on its left side. Wire insulation was also burned away on all the conductors along the left side.  A closer examination of the conductors showed no evidence of an electrical fault. The metal top of the oven was removed and the area below the gas burners was examined. The insulation was partially burned and remnants of dog food and mice feces were found packed on top of the insulation surround the oven compartment.  The dog food remains were burned and charred.  A burn test was performed on the dog food and it was found to ignite easily and sustain flame.

After a complete investigation using the scientific method, our investigators determined the fire was caused by the ignition of dog food that was placed inside the outer housing of the kitchen range by mice.  The dog food was ignited when the oven temperatures reached as high as 900 degrees Fahrenheit and continued to burn and ignite other nearby combustible materials.

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Posted by on in Welcome

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Blaze Fire Investigation is proud to introduce our newest Fire Investigator, William M. Granat, C.F.I.  Mr. Granat comes to us from the Chicago Fire Department, where he has over 12 years of experience.  He is currently a Fire Fighter and Paramedic with the Chicago Fire Department. 

Mr. Granat has worked in the private industry as a Fire Investigator for over 8 years, and has an excellent understanding of what is required when investigating a fire for either the public or private sectors. He is a Certified Fire Investigator (IAAI) and maintains many other certifications in the Fire and Explosion Investigation industry.  Mr. Granat has investigated or supervised the investigation of over 1200 fires.

We are very excited to add Mr. Granat to our team of outstanding Fire Investigators.

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Posted by on in Welcome

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We at Blaze Fire Investigation are very proud to introduce one of our newest Fire Investigators, Thomas D. Pruitt, C.F.I.  Mr. Pruitt is an extremely qualified Fire Investigator with over 29 years of experience with the Danville Fire Department in Danville, Illinois; he currently serves as the Battalion Chief and Assistant Chief.

Mr. Pruitt is active in the Fire Investigation community and can frequently be found speaking, training and teaching about Emergency Response to first responders. He also participates in seminars that discuss the latest techniques and tools available for Fire and Explosion Investigation.

Mr. Pruitt attended Parkland Community College and Danville Area Community College, studying Fire Service Technology and Criminal Law.  His continuing education and training run the full gamut of topics concerned with Fire Investigation, Fire Service, and Hazardous Materials. 

Mr. Pruitt’s experience, education, and training make him an exceptional Fire Investigator and a fantastic addition to our team at Blaze Fire Investigation.

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Posted by on in Welcome

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Utilizing Radiography and Computerized Tomography as Tools for Non-Destructive Examinations

Many times the evidence left after a fire is unrecognizable and appliances that are made partially out of plastic have melted leaving only a pile of char.  However, most of the time, the metal components inside the appliance have remained intact and are just buried in charred plastic making them inaccessible for physical examination.  This causes a problem for the investigator because the components they need to exam are unavailable.  They risk causing damage to the artifact if they physically try to remove the components by breaking away the plastic.  That’s why our team of investigators are trained to utilize radiography (X-rays) and computerized tomography (CT scans) as a non-destructive examination tool.

 

Utilizing X-rays as a non-destructive tool has been used in fire investigation for years.  X-rays are a great way to see components on a two dimensional image and can be very useful in determining switch positions, fuse conditions, and many other things. A CT scan is an x-ray procedure that combines many X-ray images together, with the aid of a computer, to produce a three-dimensional image.  Below are examples of images from a CT scan of a surge protector.  As you can see, these images are incredibly detailed.

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These images give our investigators the ability to see inside of an object without cutting or destroying the evidence and therefore preserving the evidence.   You can see the metal oxide varistors (MOVs) and switch contacts in the images above.  These tools are invaluable when determining the origin and cause of a fire. Contact Blaze Fire Investigation to assign a project or to learn more about our fire investigation and forensic engineering services. 

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Saltwater aquariums are fascinating and beautiful.  Having a little piece of the ocean inside your home has been attracting hobbyist for years.   However, not all hobbyists are aware of the dangers and risks that are associated with keeping a saltwater aquarium.

It was the start of a beautiful day in Memphis, TN until the owners of a 90 gallon saltwater aquarium woke up to the smoke alarm sounding in their home.  They ran into the living room and saw flames shooting up behind their aquarium.  They immediately grabbed the phone, called 9-1-1 and ran out of the house.  The fire department came and extinguished the fire. Unfortunately, the glass tank broke during the course of the fire and all the aquarium inhabitants were lost.

 

Our team of experts examined and photographed the fire scene and collected all of the aquarium equipment in the home. The aquarium equipment consisted of a water pump, heater, protein skimmer and two fluorescent light fixtures.  All of this equipment was plugged into a relocatable power tap that was located on the floor behind the aquarium.  A detailed examination of all of the aquarium equipment showed the most severe damage was located at the power tap.  The power tap’s plastic housing was melted and charred and sections of the hot and neutral busses were visible.  See photographs below.

 

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The hot and neutral busses showed evidence of melting and a short section of both of the buses was melted away.  Analysis showed that arcing occurred between the line and neutral busses in the power tap.  These busses are normally separated by an air gap and insulating plastic material.  In order for an arcing event to occur internal to the power tap, a current path must be established across the insulating materials.  Arcing across an insulating material is known as arc tracking and is commonly due to contamination on the insulating surfaces.  In this case the contamination was caused by the saltwater from the aquarium. 

 

Power taps used with aquarium equipment should be mounted vertically to avoid moisture falling into them.  Drip loops should also be used on power cords that enter the aquarium to avoid water flowing down the cord and into the power tap. If you are a hobbyist and own an aquarium, make sure you use drip loops and that you are using your equipment safely. 

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Posted by on in Welcome

Space heaters today come in many sizes and varieties.  Models range from small electric units that can plug into an outlet similar to an air freshener, to larger sized units that operate on fuel gas and heat larger areas such as a garage or workshop.  Space heaters can be a safe way to heat an area when used properly, but can become deadly when used improperly.  The US consumer product safety commission estimates that 25,000 fires a year are associated with the use of space heaters.

Space heaters can operate using convection or radiant heating methods.  Convection heating means the heater circulates warm air to heat a space. This type of heater is dependent on a working fan and good ventilation to distribute the heat and keep the housing cool.  Space heaters using radiant heat emit infrared radiation to heat up nearby objects and areas.  They do not contain a fan or blow air. 

Space heaters are heating appliances and like many other appliances, they have a life expectancy.  Space heaters should be replaced periodically, to ensure they contain the latest safety features and are in good working order.  Newer model space heaters have many built in safety features including a tilt or tip over switch that will shut the unit off if the unit is tilted past a specific angle.  Overheating protection devices will shut the unit off if the internal components reach a dangerous internal temperature.  Because space heaters do produce heat, the consequences of a failed space heater might be more significant than the consequences of a failed radio for example.  Using an old rusty space heater with a cloth covered power cord that was found at a garage sale might not be the best choice for your home.

Safe practices for space heater use:

Fuel gas space heaters need to be cleaned and inspected regularly. Improper operation of a fuel gas space heater increases the risk of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.  In addition, never refuel a fuel gas space heater indoors to avoid the risk of fuel spillage and accumulating flammable vapors.

When using a space heater several precautions should be observed;

1.       Use a product rated for the space you intend to heat. 

2.       Read the instruction manual.  Some space heaters may require specific tolerances from walls or other combustible materials.

3.       Never use an extension cord to provide power to a space heater. Using an improper or damaged extension cord greatly increases the risk of fire.

4.       Regularly inspect the space heater to ensure the power cord is not damaged or frayed.  Check the space heater case for cracks and dents, and ensure that any safety guards are properly installed.

5.       When not in use, unplug the space heater from the wall receptacle.

6.       Do not leave space heaters unattended.

7.       Never cover a space heater with clothing or a blanket. Space heaters create heat.

8.       Keep children and pets away from the unit and the power cord at all times.

 

Do your homework before you purchase a space heater. Check with trusted periodicals and websites for informative product reviews.  Look for recall notices and register your product with the manufacturer. Product registration is the only way to ensure that you will be notified of recalls or other important safety information. Finally, most space heater fires are not caused because the product is defective. Most space heaters fires are caused when the product is used in an improper or unsafe manner.

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Can There Ever Be Too Many Holiday Lights?

It is that time of year again where many people have decorated for the Holidays!  Twinkling lights are shining on rooftops, trees and all over the lawns of our friends and neighbors.  Most people know that one person that makes it their mission to have the most beautiful and colorful yard in the neighborhood. If you don’t, you have probably seen the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation staring Chevy Chase!  What lots of people don’t think about is how much power all of their lights consume and how much is too much for the extension cord, outlet or electronic device that they have the lights plugged into.

Every electrical device has a voltage and maximum power rating. The amount of power it takes to light a string of holiday lights varies depending on the type of light and the number of lights in that particular string. For example, a typical 300 light string can consume 72 Watts of power.   How many Watts of power are your lights, holiday decorations and devices rated for?

Our investigators at Blaze Fire Investigation and Anderson Engineering were involved in an origin and cause investigation of a holiday light device that synchronized the twinkling of the lights with holiday music. This particular device had a maximum power rating of approximately 400 Watts. Burn patterns pointed directly at this device as being a possible cause for this fire.

 

Our team of origin and cause experts and engineers examined the evidence, performed testing on exemplar products and were able to determine that the origin of the fire was internal to this holiday lighting device.  Testing results showed the over wattage of the device could cause a component inside the device to fail in an unsafe manner and ignite the flammable plastic housing of the device without tripping any circuit breakers in the house or blowing any fuses in the device or holiday lights themselves. 

 The Result for our Client:

Because of the detailed analysis and collaboration with in-house engineering, we were able to successful determine the origin and cause of this fire and determine the exact component inside the electronic device that failed and caused this fire. 

 

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Why Greg Terlecky Works at Blaze Fire Investigation

Greg Terlecky’s path to fire investigation started out with firefighting. Although it wasn’t a career that he had originally envisioned for himself, when a friend talked him into taking the entry exam and giving it a try, he found that the work suited him very much. This is also what happened when he moved into investigative work with the Office of Fire Investigation (OFI) for the City of Chicago at the suggestion of a colleague. Now as an investigator for Blaze Fire, Greg is able to apply his knowledge and experience to accomplish the kind of forensic work that has moved his career to the next level.

Strong Culture of Cooperation

Just as he was introduced to firefighting by a friend, it was a colleague who introduced him to Blaze Fire Investigation. What drew Greg to Blaze was the strong culture of cooperation and the resources that the company has readily available because of the relationship with Anderson Engineering of New Prague. Greg knows that he can call on Forensic Electrical Engineers to validate his interpretation of evidence or to provide guidance when the case is particularly complex. Having strong administrative support is also a great asset to Greg when he’s in the field, allowing him to focus on what he does best.

Expertise and Team Work

Greg holds the C.F.E.I. and C.F.I. credential and is in the process of attaining certification for Marine Investigation. Continuing education and training is an integral part of the fire investigation profession, and Greg has found that Blaze Fire Investigation not only encourages but supports his goals to further his career with training and education. Greg appreciates the way that his individual career path is important to Blaze Fire Investigation owners, Erik Anderson and Beth Anderson, and he recognizes that their investment in him is a reflection of their overriding philosophy of using team work and expertise to get the best results for their clients.

“It’s very clear that everyone at Blaze and Anderson Engineering are there to help each other and pool resources,” says Greg. “There is a definite feeling of cooperation here and that translates into a better product for the client.”

Explore career opportunities at Blaze or learn more about our team.

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Posted by on in Structural
Fire Sprinklers Save Lives In Your Home

Saving Lives, Not Just Property

Smoke detectors have been alerting people to fire danger in their homes since the 1960s and now residential fire sprinklers are saving even more lives. With 8 out of 10 fire related deaths being the result of home fires, it makes sense to invest in both detection and extinguishing equipment in your home to reduce the risk of death in a fire by 82%. The development and use of fire sprinklers began back in the 1800s to protect warehouses and factories where property was stored in large quantities. It took many large fire tragedies in hotels and multi-family residences to direct attention to the need for fire sprinklers to save lives and not just property. Now many states are contemplating the adoption of building codes that require home sprinkler systems in newly constructed homes, led by the state of California with a law that became effective in 2011.

How Home Fire Sprinkler Systems Work

b2ap3_thumbnail_C-FIRE-After-woSprinkedit.jpgYou have probably noticed sprinklers in commercial buildings because they are sometimes unsightly but home fire sprinklers can look as unobtrusive as a small circular panel on the ceiling. Unlike smoke detectors, the sprinklers are activated by heat and not smoke. When activated, the sprinklers only switch on where the heat is detected, not through the whole house. Because of their quick response time, a home fire can be extinguished in minutes, often before the fire department even has the chance to arrive at the scene. They also use less water because the fire is still small and damage to the structure and its contents is limited to the immediate area of the fire.

How to Get Home Fire Sprinklers

The easiest installation of a home fire sprinkler system is when a new home is being constructed but it is also possible to retrofit older homes. The system will be designed to cover most areas of your home and operates off of your water main. One sprinkler can cover an area of 12’ by 12’ and small non-livable areas such as bathrooms and closets are not included. Plastic pipe is installed behind walls and ceilings and attach to the individual sprinklers. Ask your contractor about adding this life saving feature that will also increase the resale value of your home in the future.

Protect Your Family and Your Home

Once installed, fire sprinkler systems need minimal maintenance. They also can be considered environmentally friendly because they use less water than firefighting, and they minimize the transfer of toxins from burnt materials to waste water. The most important reason to get a home fire sprinkler system is to protect your family from injury or death. No one expects a fire to happen, but if it does, investing in fire sprinklers at home can mean the difference between a bright future or none at all.

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Why Liz Works at Blaze Fire Investigation

When you call the Blaze Fire Investigation office, Liz Rockwell will probably be the person who you talk to first. On the Blaze team for more than three years, Liz provides the administrative wheels that move client cases from in-take to final report. Administration and operations intertwine in Liz’s day. She may be dispatching investigators, finalizing reports, scheduling appointments, or managing the office bookkeeping. Her many skills and attention to detail allow her to provide clients with the best customer service while enabling the investigators to focus on what they do best.

Working at Blaze Fire Investigation provides Liz with many things other than a paycheck. She finds the industry to be very stimulating. “You never know what situation is next.” she says. While her position holds a great deal of responsibility, the owners grant her the autonomy and tools to get the job done in the manner that she feels is most efficient. Her opinions are heard and valued. As the mother of a young son, Liz appreciates the flexibility that the company gives her to adjust when the need arises.

The Chicago office where Liz works operates as a hub for the Blaze and Anderson Engineering teams that are spread out through several states. The company has worked hard to develop a culture that supports and enables all employees to serve clients with a team approach. While Liz is the administrative wheels, she knows she's not driving by herself.

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Posted by on in Marine
Fire Investigation in Boat Storage Areas

As the boating season comes to an end, it is time for owners to have their pleasure and sporting craft stored for the winter months. Many people prefer indoor storage because it fully protects their boats from the weather, but they also like to work on their boats when they can’t be out on the water. When fire investigators are called to a scene in a boat storage area, they may find that something a boat owner did during their tinkering caused a fire that not only damaged their own boat, but those around it.

Fire Hazards in Boat Storage Area

The hazards inherent in a boat storage area are defined by a legal code but the guidelines in the code are either not known or ignored. For example, boats are supposed to be stored with gas tanks 75% or more full. This limits the vapor space that allows for expansion and contraction of the gases. A recent survey conducted by Blaze Fire Investigation revealed that most people leave their gas tanks less than 10% full. It seems counterintuitive, but this creates a hazard because there is a larger vapor space and vapors don’t stay put, they migrate. All it takes is an open flame like a cigarette or a torch, or the use of an electrical tool and you have an ignition source that can cause an explosion.

Flammable Fumes and Faulty Electrical Work

In addition to fuel vapors, boat owners use a variety of flammable liquids to clean and refinish the surfaces on their boats. Power tools can provide an ignition source by causing sparks. Excessively long extension cords that are wound over, under and around the other vessels parked in the building can also be a potential ignition source. The guidelines in NFPA 303 regarding electrical systems in wet locations are complex and unless an owner is also a professional electrical, they probably won’t be able to understand and follow them. Still, owners work on the wiring and electrical components of their boats, creating hazards when they use non-marine aftermarket parts and incorrect wiring techniques.

Investigating Large Losses in Boat Storage Facilities

When Blaze Fire Investigators get a case that involves a boat storage area, it often represents a large loss. Boats are stored in close proximity during the off-season which makes it easy for a fire to spread to neighboring vessels in a very short amount of time. Fire Investigators’ knowledge of the environment in boat storage facilities helps them to move through all aspects of the case. They expertly manage the scene and assure that everyone who needs to be on call for the investigation is included.

Marine Fire Investigation Specialty

Fire investigation services for boats, docks and storage facilities require special certifications and skills. Contact Blaze Fire Investigation to assign a project or to learn more about how we help clients find the answers they need.

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Why Dave Semrow Works at Blaze Fire Investigation

At the age of seventeen, Dave Semrow began his training to become a fire fighter.  At the age of eighteen as senior year of high school, and with the fire house across the street from school, Dave responded to fire calls from class.  When a run came in, he jumped to it whether he was at lunch or in the middle of Trigonometry class.  Upon graduation from high school, Dave obtained his certification and began his career in firefighting that would span more than 30 years and include everything from being on the firefighting front line, to haz mat, to heavy equipment operation to fire investigation.

Most of Dave’s career was with the City of Milwaukee which is where he also first became a fire investigator. With fire investigation, Dave enjoyed the way he could take years of experience as a fire fighter and apply this knowledge to fire investigation.  He found the work to be extremely interesting, challenging and he enjoyed the investigation process that required analytical and problem solving skills.

Not quite ready for retirement

When it was time for retirement in 2012, he wasn’t quite ready to just disappear from the fire service brotherhood.  He had spent a lot of time and effort acquiring the training and certifications to be a fire investigator, and wanted to keep working so he started to look for the right opportunity. As Dave contemplated where he might be able to keep working as a fire investigator, he steered away from the big national companies.  He did a few investigations with Terry Sheppard of Blaze Fire Investigation and recognized a good fit.

Company Structure Sets Investigators Up for Success

At Blaze, Dave immediately saw how the structure of the company sets the investigators up for success. The owners, Erik Anderson and Beth Anderson, are great to work for. He has always felt comfortable going to them for suggestions or input. Having consistent engineering resources at his fingertips is an incredible resource that is unique to Blaze Fire Investigation. Administrative support  from Liz Rockwell  and access to high quality lab analysis resources helps Dave to focus on fire investigation giving the clients excellent service.

Blaze Fire Invests in its Employees

Everyone who works at Blaze Fire Investigation, including Dave, appreciates how the company invests in them. Even though Dave is part-time, the training he needs to keep up his credentials or go into a specialty area is paid for by the company. He also receives a tool allowance and participation in an additional 401K – for when he really decides to retire and spend more time at the lake.

Learn more about Dave and the rest of the Blaze team.

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Knowledge of Boat and Dock Systems Vital to Fire Investigation

Marine fire investigators need to understand boat and dock systems, how they are interrelated and how they function in order to accurately determine origin and cause of a fire incident. The ability to read boat schematics allows investigators to look at the arrangement of bulkheads and electrical systems in their analysis and point to potential causes of failure. The effects of vibration, corrosion and the addition of after-market parts can create fire hazards that the investigator can pinpoint because he knows what should and should not be present in the construction of the vessel.

Most boat fires are caused by electrical issues

Electrical systems on boats run many systems - from pumps and blowers, to heating and air conditioning. Wires run throughout the boat where they can be possible ignition sources. It is possible for a fuel leak to cause a fire in a location that is not close to the source of the leak. Fuel vapors can travel to the place where vibrations may have chaffed the wiring, or corrosion has eaten through the wire coating, creating an ignition source. Boats are designed with ventilation systems to remove dangerous vapors but sometimes these systems fail because of lack of maintenance, or lack of knowledge of the boat owner about their proper use.

Many owners do not themselves, understand the intricate electrical systems on their boats. They unknowingly create fire hazards when repairs have been made that don’t take into account actual power requirements or use marine approved wiring and materials. Improper fueling procedures cause fire hazards when the boat owner doesn’t realize the necessity of blowers to vent the vapors from the boat interior. As with any fire investigation, interviewing the boat or dock owner and any witnesses provides important information that, when combined with forensic analysis, leads to a confident conclusion of origin and cause.

Dock systems may be the cause of boat fires in harbor

A pleasure craft is not just a hobby for many people, it’s their home. Just as a camper plugs in to water and power at a camp ground, a boat does the same at a marina slip. The water and power systems on the dock need to be considered when examining a fire that has occurred while in harbor. A failure in the installation of an electrical supply could result in reverse polarity into a vessel or a ground fault that energizes the surrounding water.

Fire incidents that occur in a marina have the potential to create very large losses. The close proximity of the vessels, connected by the dock system, can allow fires to travel quickly. If an electrical malfunction energizes the surrounding water, the potential for serious injury or death is very real. The pleasure craft themselves represent a very large investment. All involved are interested in discovering the answer to the origin and cause of a fire to determine proper liability and prevent future accidents.

Blaze Fire investigators apply expert boat and dock knowledge

The marine fire investigators at Blaze Fire have the certifications, credentials and resources that are needed to determine origin and cause for fires that occur on boat and dock systems. They also have expert knowledge of how marine vessels and docks are constructed that helps them to quickly and accurately provide the answers that clients need to get their best outcome.

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Why Steve Fabry Works at Blaze Fire Investigation

If you can imagine what 10 million gallons of water looks like after it has been sprayed on a fire in 15 below zero temperatures, then you can picture the fire scene where I first encountered Blaze Fire Investigation. The location was West Allis, Wisconsin where I was a police officer and detective. I was called to a fire scene on New Year’s Eve, along with others including representatives from the state fire marshal’s office and the ATF.

The fire scene was a large building that housed a hobby store, so there were many flammable substances contained within its inventory of model-making materials and supplies. Even before beginning the investigation, it was clear to see that there was heavy damage, including collapse of the roof, and it would most probably be a total loss. Add to that all the water that was used to extinguish the fire, and the below zero temperatures. It was a very daunting task to begin to analyze the scene.

Methodical and organized approach to fire investigation

Blaze Fire Investigation arrived representing the insurance company. Right from the start, I saw how they methodically and efficiently handled what needed to be done. They brought in an accelerant-sniffing dog. They set up a warm air fan to blow into the building to melt the ice. On stand-by was an excavation company with heavy equipment just in case it was needed to access the rest of the structure. They even set up a warming shed so that the people involved could better handle the sub-zero temperatures on this bitter cold New Year’s Day.

What impressed me the most about the work that Blaze Fire did during this investigation was their methodical, organized approach that showed that they were not going to take any shortcuts. At the same time, they had the resources and the expertise to arrive at the facts in an efficient manner. Not only did they call on in-house engineers but the investigator on the scene was herself, an electrical engineer, which meant they she was able to do an in-depth analysis in a relatively short period of time.

Support for my career with training and education

A few months after this investigation, I retired from my police career and was contemplating going into fire investigation on the public side. I knew that I wanted to be associated with a company that had a great reputation so when someone told me that Blaze wanted to add to their investigator staff, I knew I wanted to talk to them. During conversations with the owners, I felt quite at ease and very quickly recognized that this would be a good fit. I also recognized that their willingness to support my career with ongoing training and certifications, was not just a way to make the work stand up in court, but signified their willingness to invest in me.

I now have a couple of years in my fire investigator job with Blaze under my belt. The no-shortcut strategies that I first observed on that West Allis fire scene are the ones that I practice now. Getting the job done for Blaze Fire Investigation means that I have the resources that I need -- whether it’s immediate access to an engineer, special equipment that will save time and money, or ongoing training and education that keeps my knowledge and credentials up-to-date.

Honest and straightforward with clients

In my work as a fire investigator, I appreciate the freedom to be honest and straightforward with the client. In the end, it’s the client who decides how far the investigation should go. They can’t do that without placing a huge amount of trust in the capabilities of the investigator. The only company that I would work for is the company who provides the answers people trust. That’s why I work for Blaze Fire Investigation.

Learn more about Steve and the rest of the Blaze team.

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Blaze and Bob Donate New American Flag

Bob Leonard, founder of Blaze Fire Investigation, along with his wife, Danielle, and the team at Blaze Fire Investigation donated a huge 40'x24' United states flag to the Dousman, Wisconsin Fire Department. The donation celebrates Bob's 45 years of service to the department on the occasion of his retirement. Through the decades, Bob has filled different roles, most recently that of Assistant Chief. The flag will be hung from the department's aerial trucks for special events.

Read more about Bob Leonard's career on the Lake Country Now newspaper.

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Posted by on in Marine
Marine Fire Investigation Scenes

You might think that it’s redundant to talk about the scene of a boat fire, but marine fire investigation includes fire scenes that are above, below and out of the water.

The fire scene – below the water

Because the scene of a boat fire is usually on the water, there are inherent difficulties that are present in the analysis and recovery of the damaged vessel. If the boat has sunk, the investigation needs to begin by documenting the scene with underwater photographs. Depending upon how deep the water is, the spread diameter of debris can be quite extensive. In addition to providing valuable information about what happened to the boat, the photo documentation operates as a check system to assure that all possible artifacts have been recovered. Because of the movement of water, and the potential presence of vegetation and rugged underwater terrain, it isn’t always possible to collect all debris but that is the goal for this part of the marine fire investigation.

The fire scene – above the water

When a scene includes a vessel that is still on the water, investigators need to be cautious with their movements, determining if the boat is safe to enter. In addition, fluids within the various systems will leak into the void spaces in the vessel and migrate into the surrounding water creating an environmental issue.  Containment of any spill will be necessary as will notification to the area Environmental Protection Agent or Water Reclamation District.

On or under the water, the next part of the investigation will take place on a hard deck. The process of moving the boat to the hard deck is complex requiring the expertise of marine salvagers. The weight of water from a split or sunk hull adds to the difficulty in bringing it to the surface or moving out of a marine or dock area. This process could further damage the boat as it is pulled from the water causing evidence to be lost. Custody of the boat is determined by the authority of jurisdiction. That authority will make decisions about the recovery process; who has custody of the watercraft; and what measures are necessary to assure security.

The fire scene – at a storage facility

When a boat fire occurs when it is in a storage facility, handling the scene requires procedures that would be similar to those used for an incident that involved a car in a garage. However, knowledge of boat owner and yacht yard common practices are key to guiding interviews and analysis that will help to uncover the origin and cause of the fire. These common practices could include the way the boat was stored, and the methods and materials that were being used to work on the boats when the fire started. With boats being stored in close proximity, work on one vessel could potentially provide the spark that ignites a vapor source that originates from another vessel.

Marine fire investigation experts

Marine Fire Investigation is a specialty that is offered by Blaze Fire Investigation. Contact us to assign a project or to learn more about our fire investigation and forensic engineering services.

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Resistive Heating Origin and Cause Uncovered

CASE STUDY

SITUATION:

A Blaze Fire Investigator is called to the scene of an apartment fire. The area is nearly knee deep in debris and objects have been moved around, changing the scene. There is a clear fire pattern observed on a wall, pointing to the floor. A sofa is burned on one side and a window air conditioning unit is visibly melted.

OUR INVESTIGATION:

This investigation needed to begin with an interview with the tenant. With his home unlivable because of the fire, he was not easy to find but when located through a relative, he was cooperative. The tenant was able to visually recreate the room and the placement of furniture that had been disturbed during the course of the fire fight. Although one would assume that the air conditioner would not be used on a cool day, the tenant was able to share that because the multi-family building was usually warm, that he did, in fact, leave the air conditioner on while he left to go to an appointment.

Our investigator carefully sifted through the debris and discovered a fire pattern from the window pointing away from the wall. While the window air conditioner exhibited damage on its exterior, it did not appear to have damage that emanated from within the unit. There were badly damaged extension cords and a power strip with numerous inputs on the floor.

In consultation with forensic engineering colleagues at Anderson Engineering of New Prague, our investigator was able to determine that the origin of the fire was one of the extension cords and the cause was resistive heating, or too much power traveling through the cord.

THE RESULT FOR OUR CLIENT:

Because of skillful interviewing, detailed analysis of the scene, and collaboration with in-house forensic specialists, Blaze Fire was successful in uncovering the origin and cause of this apartment fire, and the client was able to confidently determine their path to recovery.

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NFPA 921 Guidelines Instrumental in Aiding Fire Investigation Outcomes

In-depth knowledge of the NFPA 921 guide, regarding notification to interested parties in a fire investigation, is critical to establishing a potential path to recovery for our clients. In addition to determining cause of the fire, it is our goal to provide notice to the parties so that those involved are only those that are necessary, and that the fire scene is preserved as much as possible to allow everyone equal opportunity to participate in the investigation. Blaze Fire Investigation is able to expertly incorporate NFPA 921 with a combination of the expert skills of our on-site investigators and the availability of forensic engineering consulting through colleagues at Anderson Engineering of New Prague, Inc.

Determining origin - interviewing

Fire scenes come in all conditions, from very light damage to total destruction. Whatever the scene, our investigators know that the people involved can be quite upset and even traumatized by what has happened. As our investigators make contact with these people as they enter a scene, they reassure them about the purpose of the investigation, and with their forthright and nonthreatening manner, open the door to honest dialogue.

Blaze Fire Investigators use well-honed interviewing skills to ask the right questions that will uncover facts that move the investigation along. The questioning strategy might include reconstructing a visual of the objects in the scene. It could include a history of renovations or repairs that have been made to the property. Questions directed at behaviors and actions that occurred prior to the fire are very important to identifying potential causes of a fire.

Determining origin - forensics

As they sift through debris at a fire scene at the beginning of an investigation, Blaze Fire Investigators balance their goal of determining origin with the need to preserve evidence if a joint scene is required. This is where connections with forensic engineers at Anderson Engineering of New Prague, Inc. provide Blaze Fire with resources that other investigation companies do not have readily available. At any time, our investigators can consult with an electrical or mechanical engineer to better identify products and systems that may be involved.

When a joint scene is required, only the necessary parties are placed on notice and the investigation can continue in the most cost effective manner possible. For example, let’s say that there was an investigation of a kitchen fire. The burn pattern points to an origin that is on the counter and doesn’t include the area where the stove and fridge are located. Possible parties for notice could include manufacturers of countertop appliances but not to the large appliances across the room that were not in the defined area of origin.

Providing clients with all the options

Throughout a fire scene investigation, Blaze Fire Investigators are in communication with clients, providing them with facts that they need to make decisions and move the process forward in an efficient, timely manner. Each case is different, but with highly trained investigators and a team of forensic experts at hand, we effectively act as the investigative eyes and ears for clients who need answers to the origin and cause of a fire, leading to the best path to recovery.

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