New Special Team Bolsters MFD's Fire Investigation Capabilities

FIT members Ianne, Flores, Nelson
FIT members Lt. Ianne, FF/PM Flores, AE Nelson

Fire Station 11 is now home to the Madison Fire Department’s newest special team, the Fire Investigation Team (FIT). The FIT is the fourth special team in the department. Just like the Lake Rescue, HazMat, and Heavy Urban Rescue Teams, the FIT still responds to routine fire and EMS calls when they’re not devoted to a special assignment.

After a fire occurs, investigators are tasked with attempting to determine where the fire started (its “origin”) and how the fire ignited (its “cause”). Thorough and accurate fire investigations mean future incidents can be prevented and, in cases of arson, responsible parties can be held accountable.

 
FF Hermann conducts investigative interview
Firefighter Herrmann interviews an occupant displaced by a fire.

Previously, these responsibilities were overseen by the Fire Investigation Division, a unit comprised of three commissioned members who were based at MFD’s administrative headquarters. Typically, only one investigator would respond to a fire to process and photograph the scene, conduct interviews, and analyze all the information to attempt to determine the fire’s origin and cause.

Now, under the new team model, four on-duty firefighters split these responsibilities, making for a more efficient investigation. In total, there are 21 people dedicated to the FIT across three different shifts.

 
Fire patterns and damaged couch
Fire patterns help investigators determine place of origin.

Fire investigation is a particularly complicated science because fire is destructive in nature, and uncovering key evidence can be tricky. The MFD FIT is specially trained to read fire patterns and examine other evidence to identify a fire’s origin and cause. In some cases, the FIT may work closely with Madison Police detectives as part of a joint task force. When needed, the department can also call upon the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the local fire investigator with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for assistance.

For the FIT, investigation is about more than just determining the origin and cause of a fire. It’s about fire prevention and community education. Lessons are often learned from accidental fires, and that information can be shared with the community in an effort to prevent similar fires.

 
FF McDaniels takes photos
Firefighter McDaniel collects photos of fire damage.

Since its inception on January 12, 2020, the FIT has responded to eight significant fires. Six were determined to be accidental due to either inattentive cooking, improperly discarded smoking material, the spontaneous combustion of rags, or equipment failure. The remaining two are still under investigation.

In the near future, the FIT will participate in local, county, and statewide fire investigative trainings to enhance their skills. Now, with a task force team comprised of the FIT and trained detectives from MPD, any suspicious or intentionally set fires will get the full resources of both departments. Arsonists, beware!

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Fire and a link back to the original post.

Category: General, Station 11