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RURAL Arson Control

2

Enact local or state legislation that requires investigators to be summoned when cause cannot be definitely established as accidental.

One community highlights arson awareness in its annual report by specifically enumerating the responsibilities of the fire chief. Determining fire cause is specifically given as one of these responsibilities.

Cause Determination and Fire Suppression

Need Statement:

Initial cause determination should be an integral part of fire suppression.

Discussion:

It is by no means a universally accepted tenet among rural firedepartments that initial cause determination is one of their prime responsibilities. Many progres- sive departments recognize the importance of cause determination to arson control, fire prevention, and public education. Some rural departments still define their role strictly as fire suppression. Because of the diversity of positions on this point, rural fire departments observed during the course of this study ranged from departments with specially trained and highly motivated investi- gative teams to departments with no interest in even performing the most perfunctory cause determination.

To encourage rural fire departments to take as active a role in cause determina- tion as local resources allow and local conditions require will take additional efforts at the national and state level.

  • Arson Control Expert Concurrence

Agree 20

Disagree 4

Solution Options:

Develop a set of model procedures that fire departments could adopt to guide their actionsat a fire scene. For example, these might include the proper method for roping off a scene, rules for control of smoking materials on the fire ground, or recording the license numbers of spectators’ vehicles;

Require reporting of all fires and causes to a central state agency, such as the state fire marshal’s office. Kansas uses this method, and it has improved the quality of reporting. In turn, cause determinations have increased. Use of “fire-police” for crowd control and protection of the scene.

By Pennsylvania law, fire chiefs must sign certifications of acceptanceof respon- sibility for fire investigation. Clearly mandating fire departments to discharge this responsibility provides a formal basis for this activity. Other steps (includ- ing as a last resort, a range of sanctions) should also be available to state authorities to ensure that this responsibility is carried out. Formal mechanisms that spell out responsibilities need to be augmented by a variety of reinforce-

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