Training may change way deadly fires are investigated

Fire investigators learn to solve deadly crimes hidden by smoke, flames

HOUSTON – Flames and thick black smoke engulf an abandoned building, where inside, firefighters discovered a body.

The staged fire scene on the campus of Sam Houston State University in Huntsville is part of a national training course for fire investigators.

"This program is about training fire investigators. We're training folks on real life situations. Basically, worst case situations," Wylie, Texas, Fire Chief Steve Seddig said.

Seddig organized the intensive day of training, which focused on the criminal side of fire investigations. Firefighters from 17 states were in attendance, including Chief Kristopher Hines, from the Saint Tammany Fire District 12 in Louisiana.

"This is probably a once in a lifetime class for us," Hines said.

Hines joined firefighters from 16 other states for classroom and field training to help them learn how fire kills, especially when it's murder. They'll work in teams, studying eight simulated crime scenes before each scene is set on fire.

"Each one of these rooms will have a crime scene in them," Seddig said.

Then, once the flames are out, each team will go inside and piece together clues.

"They're going to document it like they would any other investigation," Seddig said.

"We'll be able to compare what we think against what they did, and see how close we were to the actual results," Hines said.

In one of the crime scenes, students discovered a human cadaver. It's used in this case for part of the important fire research being done there.

"We did witness the effects of heat on a cadaver. I've had experience with it before. It's never easy watching it. Hopefully, we'll be able to bring a lot of the information back to our department to properly train our personnel," Hines said.

All of the research done as part of this training will be collected and used to help improve fire investigations.

"This could change the way we look at certain situations in a fire investigation," Seddig told Channel 2.

The ATF has already used some the research collected in the tests. Eventually, other fire agencies around the country will have access to the research collected in Huntsville.

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