The Chenango County Office of Emergency Services' - Fire Investigation Unit is comprised of 12 certified level II Fire Investigators, all of which assist the Fire Departments - Cause and Origin teams. These well-trained professionals respond to any structural fire in which the following occur:
- Death or Fatal Fire
- Any Suspicious Fire
- Any Fire where the "Cause and /or Origin" of the fire is unknown
Fire investigation, sometimes referred to as origin and cause investigation, is the analysis of fire related incidents. After firefighters extinguish a fire, an investigation is launched to determine the origin and cause of the fire or explosion. Investigations of such incidents is done using a systematic approach and knowledge of basic fire science.
Fire investigation is one of the most difficult of the forensic sciences to practice. In most forensic disciplines, even the basic question of whether a crime has been committed is normally obvious. During a fire investigation, an entire process must be undertaken just to determine if the case involves arson or not. The difficulty of determining whether an arson fire has occurred or not arises because fires destroy evidence. A fire investigator looks at what is left behind after a fire and obtains information to piece together the events that occurred in the moments leading up to the fire. One of the challenging aspects of fire investigation is the multi-disciplinary base of the investigator's job. Fires can be caused by or involve most things people see or use. For this reason, fire investigators need to know not only basic science of fire behavior, but knowledge of many different areas of study (including construction, electricity, human behaviour, vehicles etc) is helpful. If the fire origin has, for example, a gas appliance, an investigator should know enough about appliances to either include or exclude it as a possible cause of the fire. Fire investigators must also know their own limitations and call upon experts to assist when needed. Accordingly, fire investigators sometimes work with forensic electrical engineers (when examining electrical appliances, household wiring, etc.) or forensic mechanical engineers (gas-powered appliances, air handling equipment, gas delivery systems, etc.).
In the United States, fire investigators refer to a guide published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for codes, standards, and suggested practices about conducting fire investigations. The most recent edition of this guide, titled NFPA 921: Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations, was published in 2004. The information standards and practices discussed below are those which appear in NFPA 921.