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  • Arson

    At our local fire department it seems to be a point of discussion, as to if we should say anything to the insurance company as if think that a house may have been set on fire. Case in point, Thursday morning we had a call to a house fire, nothing was left of the the house but the foundation. The owners waited until she had a replacement at work and over 40 minutes to get home before 911 was called. When calling the insurance agent for a policy number, I gave my opinion.
    Now, the Chief seems to be worried that I may have set myself up for a lawsuit.
    I am curious what other depts do, and if you have written polices or SOP, concern this and what they might say.
    Thanks

  • #2
    Ive never been in that situation, but I would think that you could offer a professional opinion as to what others have done in the past. Certainly sounds odd to me!

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    • #3
      I think firefighters should be extremely cautious as to what they say to bystanders, media, insurance companies, etc... when it comes to opinions on what started a fire or behavior of occupants. Unless a cause has been determined by fire investigators, I don't think we have any business giving our opinions. If the insurance company asks direct questions, we should answer them with facts.

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      • #4
        First thing I would have to ask a few questions. Did your company officer and or I.C. do a routine initial investigation as to where the fire started and its possible cause? Does your dept. have any arson investigators? If not, did your Chief ask for or notify the proper investigative authorities on the city, county or state level? What are your qualifications as to determination and cause? Does your SOP's cover this type of situation? The insurance company itself will probably investigate. Sounds like your Chief needs to set proper protocols for this type of situation.

        Here, the senior company officer does an initial investigation on location and cause. A fire report is written with these determinations ( can be suspicious, undetermined or arson). If arson is suspected, an arson investigation report is also filed and sent to the arson unit for further investigation. You must follow procedures if you are to suggest or accuse anyone of arson. Our SOP's clearly state those procedures that must be followed. If you have no training and background in cause and determination to go along with an accusation of this type and evidence, the defense attorney will eat you alive, if it comes to that. Your opinion carries a lot of weight, so you had better have something to back up that opinion besides a hunch.

        [This message has been edited by FireLt1951 (edited 05-20-2001).]

        [This message has been edited by FireLt1951 (edited 05-20-2001).]

        [This message has been edited by FireLt1951 (edited 05-20-2001).]

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        • #5
          If you are not the Fire Chief, a command officer or an arson investigator and do not know what the cause of the fire was, then you should not be making comments! You may have set yourself up for a defamation of character lawsuit.

          In my community, any fire of a suspicious nature is handled by the Department's Fire Cause and Origin team.

          Arson investigations should be left to those with the proper training. Before any comments are made to the media or to insurance investigators, one should first clear the release of any information with the command staff of the Department.

          ------------------
          Firefighters: Today's heroes protecting everyone's tomorrows!
          Captain Gonzo

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          • #6
            I have to second the remarks of gah74 and FireLt1951, as to what is the policy of your department?

            Our policy is the Crew Chief for Rescue or Command for Fire whichever the case maybe. Are the only ones who speak with anyone outside the department about a call and they usually only state the obvious. Before giving full statements to any investigators we need to clear it by a chief. All specific media questioned are referred to a chief officer.

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            • #7
              We don't have a policy dealing with this. I was just ask a simple question and gave my answer.
              If we was to adopt a policy on this any suggestions on the wording?

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              • #8
                Highest ranking officer on scene is the only person who speaks to press, bystanders, or anyone else who might ever use what was said for any reason. For a simple room and contents fire, or where the cause is obvious, we probably wouldn't call in the fire marshall (unless it is suspicious or no cause can be found). Otherwise, we always call in the state police fire marshall. Volunteer companies can not afford the liability of making a statement regarding criminal activity. Leave that up to the cops. Stay Safe.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Unless you are the IC, PIO, department chief, or someone authorized by the chief to make statements, you should not discuss operations with anyone.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I agree with FLT'51 on the procedures to use. If you do not have a manual, check with other departments (generally a bigger one) in the area. Borrow theirs if you can to get ideas for what your dept should do.
                    Gonzo, don't scare the guy. A) He probably will not get sued and B) if he did, he would have all that odd behavior to point to to take the monkey off his back and make any judge or jury look at the woman. Besides, it is a real hard thing to prove defamation. (Any number of people on these posts would be suing each other silly if that was the case! )

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                    • #11
                      He probably won't get sued, but this was not a smart thing to do.

                      Fire Investigators are being held to a higher standard these days. Due to recent court rulings, a fire investigator must base his opinion on a scientific-based analysis of all the facts. He then must develop a hypothesis from this analysis and test that hypothesis to determine whether it can withstand a serious challenge. If it can, the opinion can be developed. If it cannot, the investigation continues.

                      Old wives tales and speculation as to why a person did certain things are being weeded out of the fire investigation world slowly but surely. Your reasoning for determining this fire was an incendiary is faulty and your opening your mouth about it to anyone was irresponsible. You won't get sued, but I would bet that you will be deposed during any impending civil legal action.

                      Leave fire investigation to the trained professionals.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Marclackey

                        I spent nearly 10 years in Fire/Arson Investigations and am now back on an Engine Co.

                        Your post leaves me with a number of questions:

                        First and foremost - what was the basis for your opinion to the Insurance Agent. A house that burns to the foundation alone does not indicate anything other than there was a fire. There are so many influencing factors. A pan on the stove or an electrical short could easily result in a total burn. Unless someone proficient in determining the exact location of the origin, then the cause can not be determined. Response times, discovery, weather conditions, fuel load and contents could all cause such a burn.

                        2 - why did you call the agent for the policy number? I have never done that, but that does not mean its wrong. I just have never heard of that. Invariably, if a claim is filed, the insurance company will most definitely contact the fire department.

                        3 - Because the owner had to find replacement at work in and of itself does not indicate anything. Was it the owner that called 911? Who told the owner about the fire? Did that person call or were they told by the owner not to call? A bundle of unanswered questions that have to be answered before they have any meaning in an investigation.

                        You say nothing about your official position with the department. Official, or even unofficial, statements should be left with designated representatives of the department.

                        Fire Departments should have SOP's on almost any issue. It is especially important to have an SOP on Fire Origin and Cause Investigations. If a fire investigation goes to court I guarantee that will be one of the first question the defense asks. I have been there many times.

                        I would advise you to refrain from making a statement as to cause unless you have some significant foundation for doing so. This is almost like a Chief's oral question. Defer to a Company Officer, Chief Officer or a PIO.

                        I doubt that anything will come from this but let it be a lesson learned. I recommend you department discuss this in a post fire critique or review and that the Chief Officers of your department come out with an SOP.

                        Captain Bill

                        [This message has been edited by Icerader (edited 05-22-2001).]

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Just tell the facts. It is your OPINION that she set the fire. Simply state what you told us--that the 40 minutes elapsed before you were contacted. Let them draw their own conclusions. They have seen enough of this kind of thing to figure out what's going on without having you put up a billboard for them.

                          You might be screwed here. Might oughta find a lawyer.

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