The Use of Accelerant Detection Dogs in Fire Scene Investigations

By Denise Johnson | August 6, 2012

  • October 25, 2012 at 5:49 pm
    Rick Aragon says:
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    According to NFPA 921 – “Data should be collected to identify all potential fuels, ignition sources, and oxidants within the area or areas of origin.” (Section 18-3). Just like fire investigators attempt to identify or rule out other ignition sources, they should attempt to identify or rule out potential fuel sources such as ignitable liquids.

    Since fire investigators cannot see or smell(typically)ignitable liquid residues, and fire patterns are not always a clue as to whether or not they are present, we should be utilizing these valuable accelerant detection canines on a more frequent basis.

    As a private fire investigator, we are to conduct an independent fire investigation that is separate from the initial fire investigation done by the fire department. That means doing our own work, and not having any expectation or confirmation biases as well. As you know, public officials do not always correctly identify the origin and cause of every fire. We as private sector K-9 handlers, have been to plenty of fires after a fire was ruled accidental by the fire department, then we come in and find an ignitable liquid with the canine. Also, I am surprised at how many fires are labeled “undetermined” without ever calling for a canine, both in the private and public sectors.

    If the canine detects an ignitable liquid, that is simply cause to further investigate as there may be a valid reason for it being (stored) there. Any samples taken from a canine alert will need to be confirmed by a laboratory. If the canine does not detect an ignitable liquid, then we can perhaps, focus our efforts elsewhere to determine the origin and cause of the fire. With that being said, when we investigate a fire, we should gather all of the data including the results from the canine’s search to help us with our hypothesis analysis and testing, before we render an opinion.

    Every fire should be thoroughly investigated to accurately determine its origin and cause. An accelerant detection canine should be used on a regular basis, as they can help investigators eliminate the presence of ignitable liquids, just as much as they can help investigators locate ignitable liquids should they be present.

    Rick Aragon
    Fire Investigator/K-9 Handler
    Aragon Investigations, LLC

    • December 12, 2012 at 11:17 pm
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      While I agree with 99% of your post, and will add that I am working toward a CADA certification with my dog-in-training. I strongly disagree with your statement, “As you know, public officials do not always correctly identify the origin and cause of every fire.” I would have to say that our training and education come from most of the same sources, do they not? We all have heard of, met and even worked with hack fire investigators in BOTH the public and private sector. If we are ever going to get over the public v. private wars in fire investigations we cannot have comments like yours above. We must ALL own up to our mistakes, undetermined findings and strive to be better at our jobs.

      Lt. Nathan Stoermer
      Fire Investigator
      Scott Township Fire Department

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