Firefighters training to investigate arson fires

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY -- A dilapidated fire-gutted house in East Albany contained the clues to its own blaze Saturday.

A class of firefighters, recently schooled in fire-ignition-detection techniques, sifted through the scene to learn the method used to start the fire.

The firefighters from across South Georgia took part in a three-day, fire-investigation class headed by Sam Harris, the Albany Fire department's arson investigator.

"We've taken them through a basic electrical wiring class and other classes," Harris said. "The class is going well. They are learning a lot in a short period of time."

The 25 member class came in three groups at different times to dig for clues at the abandoned house. Local firefighters purposely set to fire to the house to use it as a teaching tool Tuesday.

After collecting clues and filling out the conclusions reached by interpreting those clues the firefighters would be graded pass or fail. The first group of firefighters at the scene felt confident in their skill set.

"This has been a great learning experience," said Will Owen, a firefighter from Donalson. "We can spot whether it is electrical or a typical arson."

The idea, Harris said, is to familiarize the firefighters with investigation techniques so that they can tell a natural or accidental fire source from arson. Knowing the basics would give firefighters a better idea of when an investigation was not needed.

Once the class members learn how to identify where the fire started, they will be able to determine its cause, said Terry Hewett, Moultrie Fire Department battalion captain.

Each class group will have an hour to investigate on the fire site, Harris said. Then they will have to complete their reports.

Eventually the house will be burned down by Albany firefighters and the debris taken to a landfill. With this method there will be less debris than if the house were bulldozed.

That is a landfill fee cost savings for the city, James Carswell, Albany fire chief has said.