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Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • Looking for clues: Firefighters taught to solve fire-scene mysteries

  • Many people believe that a firefighter’s task is finished once the flames have been extinguished. Truth be told, once the fire is out begins a firefighter’s most challenging task – determining where and how the fire started.
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  • Many people believe that a firefighter’s task is finished once the flames have been extinguished. Truth be told, once the fire is out begins a firefighter’s most challenging task – determining where and how the fire started.
    To help accomplish those objectives, a group of local firefighters underwent 16 hours of special training in Hannibal this week.
    “It’s basic fire investigation training,” said Dave Nichols of the University of Missouri Extension Fire Rescue Training Institute. “It’s to teach firefighters a little bit about investigations. We instruct them on what they can do to preserve that scene while they’re fighting the fire. We also help them to notice unusual things and teach them to pass that information on to their chiefs to help with the investigation that comes later on.”
    Brian Davison, a fire marshal with the Columbia Fire Department who teamed with Nichols during this week’s training, says there are a lot of components to a fire-scene investigation.
    “When you actually go into the fire scene and dig it out and try to make a (cause) determination, that’s only one small piece of the puzzle,” said Davison. “You still have to do your (witness) interviews. You still have to do a lot of research on financial history, insurance, things like that. It’s extremely challenging.”
    After spending eight hours Tuesday in the classroom, on Wednesday the nine local firefighters participating in the training got to investigate the origins of three different blazes that were started in different compartments of a special training trailer that was brought to the fire station adjacent to McMaster’s Avenue.
    “We used little things to set fires in the rooms. Now the guys will have to come out here in three groups and investigate each room and see if they can find the evidence that was left behind,” said Nichols. “They’ll look and see, using what they learned in class yesterday for eight hours, and apply that today to see if they can figure out where the fire started and on top of that how the fire started.”
    The instructors do not set out to stump their students.
    “We do not necessarily try to trick them, but challenge them and make them use those skills we’re trying to teach them in the class,” said Davison.
    Bill Madore, Hannibal fire chief, acknowledged the investigation is no piece of cake.
    “It’s very challenging,” he said. “It’s a systematic approach that we use to make sure we cover all the bases in a complete investigation. It is very important we are meticulous in our efforts and make sure we come up with the right cause in the area of origin.”
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    Learning curve
     
    According to Davison, the rate at which firefighters pick up the investigative training varies.
    “Every different department we’ve taught at has had an extremely different level of experience or education,” he said. “We’ve been at departments that have no investigative experience and it’s a huge learning curve for them. Then you come to departments like here in Hannibal that’s extremely progressive and has several certified fire investigators taking this class to keep up with their continuing education. They’re a little bit quicker at it.
    “Each person has a different process they go through so some people will be quicker at it, while some people will take longer. Usually they will come up with the same determination. It’s really neat to see how everybody takes a different path to come to that conclusion.”
    Joining Hannibal firefighters in this week’s training were representatives from the Missouri State Fire Marshal, Hannibal Rural Fire Protection District and the New London Fire Department.
    “We opened up the training to the other departments and we’re glad to have them here. Often times we work very closely together with neighboring jurisdictions. It’s nice to be on the same page as far as training and what to expect on the fire ground,” said Madore.
    This week’s training was paid for by a grant.
    “We put the word out that we had money to do these classes and the people that want it call in, write in, whatever, and set the dates and times they want it,” said Nichols. “We’ll have done probably 30 of these classes across the state of Missouri by the end of the year.”
     
     
     
     

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