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The Role of a Fire Investigator


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A first class read Jim, I'd advise all newer members to read and digest this... not only is it a valuable educational piece overall, it will also give food for thought when they are working at a fire scene to recognise that the investigator has a job to do afterwards....

"Was that before or after you noticed you were standing in a lake of gasoline? WAS THAT BEFORE RO AFTER YOU NOTICED YOU WERE STANDING IN A LAKE OF GASOLINE YOU IDIOT!!!"


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@Noddy a bit off topic, but may I ask a question anyway.

in training, we got told that if we come across a casualty that is deceased, that we should let entry control know the location but we should leave them in situ for FI.

I’m a bit unsure on this one. I’m not a doctor, and sometimes in low visibility, I couldn’t possibly make that decision. My gut tells me that if I found someone, I’d get them out for help. I’m yet to actually find anyone, but I was wondering what your thoughts were? What would be the repurcussions for me if a coroner decided that that person died after the fire, and if I had gotten them out they may have survived?


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Good question that attracts a lot of debate when I ask it during my input to crews. 

Bottom line is it’s down to you to decide.  I will never criticise anybody for bringing out a corpse from a job.  I wasn’t there in your shoes at the time so have no idea of what you saw, felt etc.. if in any doubt then bring them out.  And I've been there and done it so understand.  I’d rather be examining a dead body at a job that’s now under a salvage sheet on the front lawn, than finding out that some poor soul left in a job wasn’t actually dead! (Which hasn’t happened to me after 55 fatal fires by the way! ). 

I would say however that some people are so very clearly dead that’s it’s not a difficult decision to make in leaving them in situ sometimes.  

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@Noddy  that’s helped me a lot, thank you:)

I just thought I’d ask after a fire I went to last tour. 3 floors, 100% fire damage, started by a gas explosion. I was sent in for FF S+R in the top floor. There was a bed that had a big lump in the middle, resembling a body. I was thinking about what I’m going to do if this is a body, because they’re obviously going to be dead. I had a crew manager to ask if it was a body, but luckily it was just a pile of duvets and clothes under the debris. 

I guess in that scenario, they’d obviously be dead and I should leave them, but there’s always that what if.

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Not necessarily mate I’d only rely on what I could see in making my decision and not feel when viz is zero.  If you can’t see that somebody is clearly brown bread then bring them out.  I’ve had plenty of jobs where bodies have been partially brought out too.  Crews attempted a rescue but when they’d come out of the compartment and could see more clearly, it became obvious that nothing could be done to save them.  The body was then left on the landing, hallway or wherever.  


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I found 4 children in a bathroom and was 99% certain they were dead (they were, as was their baby sister elsewhere in the house) so I decided to leave them in situ. They were very warm - indeed, almost impossible  to touch to check for signs of life with a degloved hand. They were sticky with plasma leaking from blisters and some showed burns - plus the sheer glass melting heat in the house, I thought it was impossible for them to be alive - but was I sure, I mean 101% sure???

Later I realised that my decision was part 'They can't be alive can they?',  part as I didn't want their screaming mother outside to see them, and part to protect myself from a rollocking if I had messed up the investigation. My training was leave them is the default position and whoa betide anyone who gets it wrong!!

 I agonised for months about that decision. Could I have saved them? But suppressed that anxiety and buried it deep and I mean properly deep to the point of PTSD bursting out nearly 30 years later in symptoms that I will not go into here.  The Coroners Inquest helped me as the PM details showed the blood levels were such that they would not have sustained life. I made a decision there and then at the Coroner Court that I would never ever leave a body in situ if it was intact enough to carry or drag out

I recall on two occasions in my career after that, I removed a body that others had left in situ as I was not 100% sure and was pretty vocal everyone in the fire service must do the same. FI Professionals like Noddy will be able to work around the body being moved, and if in that stressful situation, you can make a mental note of the origination of the body and any other features, I am sure they'd be grateful. 

But never take the chance of leaving a body which may have 0.000000001% of a chance of life - imagine living with that awful realisation afterwards! :(

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@Messyshaw that really hits home, and I have a lot of respect for you for telling that story. I never want to be in that position, but in this job, it’s an unfortunate almost guarantee. I have an absolutely amazing watch, my mentor is incredibly supporting and my watch manager is a very nice person. I feel like I’ll be talking to them if I ever find myself in that situation, alas I won’t know how I’ll handle fatals until they happen.

i agree with what you said. I think I’ll use that to help me make the decision in the future. “0.01% chance and they’re coming out”.

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Simple answer as above "If in doubt, bring them out" You will never find yourself in any mental bother if you bring a deceased body out compared to leaving what could be a survivable one in situ. 

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