Battle Plan for War Against Arson Detailed in Report to Fire Academy

Battle Plan for War Against Arson Detailed in Report to Fire Academy

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Recommendations for waging a war on arson, ranging from defining who will fight the battles to the development of a glossary of arson terms, has recently been published by the National Fire Academy.

The recommendations were developed by 36 persons who met under the auspices of the academy at the Columbus, Ohio, Laboratories of the Battelle Memorial Institute in January and February of this year. The conferees who discussed the increasing arson problem in this country represented not only the fire service, but also such varied interests as the insurance industry, the prosecutors and even bankers.

Their purpose was to define specific areas in which definite actions can be taken to ameliorate the incidence of arson.

Basic training urged

Under the general category of the need to develop and define responsibilities, the recommendation was made that basic training in arson detection and the identification of fire causes is necessary for all fire service personnel. The group also asked that both police and fire techniques and the legal aspects of arson be taught to all arson investigators, regardless of whether they are police or fire personnel.

There also was a recommendation that where federal money is spent for fire prevention and control, that there be special training and orientation programs “for courts, particularly the prosecutors.”

The conferees strongly urged that the NFPCA and the National Fire Academy develop a model arson task force concept to show how police and fire services can work together in cooperation with other municipal agencies, including building investigators, housing agencies and social service agencies.

In addition, community groups should have an involvement with this task force to give the task force public participation.

Arson squad concept

In turning to the insurance industry, the recommendations were that the arson squad concept that the old National Board of Fire Underwriters sponsored should be reexamined. The report found that the arson squad gave public agencies an understanding of insurance industry problems and such an understanding, according to the arson seminar participants, “is now badly needed.”

The insurance industry, the report stated, should be encouraged to give the fire and police services, as well as the courts, a better understanding of insurance company interests and particularly the value to society of preventing arson through a vigorous defense of fire claims in civil courts. The report also saw a need for insurance companies to give their own claims adjusters and supervisors a better understanding of the interests of the fire and police services and the courts.

Because of what it called the national need, the report urged the National Fire Academy to “give top priority” to the development of training programs for arson investigation and related activities. The report recommended that the academy arson programs should be model programs that would be implemented by state and municipal personnel.

Model program levels

It was suggested that four levels of model programs should include: (1) courses in the detection of arson for fire fighters and fire officers which would also tell them what to do before the arrival of arson investigators, (2) a special arson investigation program for the fire service that would encompass criminal investigation, (3) an arson investigation and enforcement program designed for law enforcement personnel, and (4) a program to fulfill the needs of prosecutors.

The seminar participants pointed out the desirability of professional certification for arson investigators whether they were employed by government or private agencies, such as insurance companies. The report explained that certification would be of specific value to courts and that the academy courses should be designed to be consistent with certification standards.

In an effort to ensure the use of high investigative standards, the report recommended that the fire academy should consider making the availability of federal fire prevention funds “contingent on the acceptance of arson investigation standards by states and municipalities.”

Insurance personnel training

The report stated that the insurance industry should be urged to promote training programs, particularly for insurance adjusters and other claims personnel. Although these programs might be financed privately, the report added, they should be developed in cooperation with the fire academy.

Furthermore, the report stated, arson detection and investigation programs should include instruction in the use of scientific equipment, both on the fireground and in the laboratory.

The seminar conferees urged the National Fire Protection Association to publish parts of its state legislation evaluation done for the National Science Foundation that pertain to arson laws and they called on the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to determine the sections of those laws that hamper insurance industry action against arson. The commissioners group also was asked to “study the impacts of state laws which may compel insurance companies to pay insurance claims greater than the market values of insured properties.”

Laws to cut arson profits

Formation of a legislative committee to recommend laws that would “take the profit out of arson” was another recommended action for the NFPCA to take. This should be done, the report suggested, in cooperation with a group such as the National District Attorneys Association to examine the impact of federal, state and local housing laws on the spread of arson. It also was suggested that a group such as the American Bankers Association look at how banking laws at various levels contribute to the spread of arson.

Furthermore, the NFPCA should set up a committee to develop a new model state arson law within the next year, the report stated.

The usefulness of a data system in combatting arson was recognized by the seminar participants in urging the NFPCA to determine, in cooperation with the insurance industry, how private and public agencies can share information about arson claims and fire causes. The first step suggested was the possibility of developing legislation that would grant immunity against privacy law penalties to insurance companies that share arson-related information with public authorities.

Arson detection equipment

The report advised support of National Fire Academy arson-related training programs by implementing “as soon as possible” the proposed arson information center concept.

In the field of research, the report called for an assessment of arson detection and investigation equipment that is available or can be made available. This study was regarded as the basis for defining within two years basic detection equipment requirements.

The NFPCA was asked to “cooperate with other federal agendes in developing a basic behavior research program on arson” that would emphasize gathering information “directly useful to local fire and police units.”

The report urged encouragement of research on both the role of new materials in fire and materials used in incendiary devices, as well as fire-retardant materials.

Sources of funding

The provision of funds for combatting arson also was considered in the arson seminar report. The NFPCA was urged to determine where funds can be obtained for both equipment and activities to combat arson. How to obtain such funds, the report said, should be reported by the NFPCA to both the Joint Council of National Fire Service Organizations and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The conferees expressed concern about the lack of a “single insurance organization with a mandate for coordinating information about the operation and funding of insurance company programs relating to arson.” They proposed that the NFPCA become “a catalyst to set up such an organization” through the Insurance Information Institute.

State efforts to stop arson, said the report, “must be encouraged and adequately funded.” It suggested that fire marshal taxes in various states, as well as other revenue sources, should be used to support the fight against arson “because fire prevention and detection benefits the entire economy, not just the insurance industry.”

In recognition that arson is a national problem, the seminar report urged the NFPCA and the National Fire Academy to seek to have the Federal Bureau of Investigation designate arson as a “Part I” crime so that the reporting of statistics on arson would become mandatory for the FBI uniform crime reporting system, in which most police departments participate. This proposal was offered in the belief that only mandatory reporting of arson will provide a true picture of the extent of the problem throughout the nation.

Publicity recommended

The magnitude of the arson problem, the report advised, should be publicized through the development and coordination of a public information program by the NFPCA. This program “should involve a wide spectrum of concerned groups,” the report continued.

In addition to the production of a film on the arson problem, the seminar conferees urged the NFPCA and the fire academy to publish an arson and incendiarism professional journal and they added that the NFPCA should publish a guide on basic public relations for fire service organizations. Another suggestion was that a newsletter should be used to disseminate information about successful public awareness activities aimed at controlling arson.

Finally, the report urged the compilation of a glossary of arson-related terms by an NFPCA-designated committee that would include representatives of the fire and police services, insurance industry, legal profession, and professional arson invest igators.

The report added that a field guide for arson investigation should be developed by the NFPCA with the cooperation of the NFPA and the National Bureau of Standards. This guide should contain information on investigative techniques as well as the arson glossary.

The report stated that it would be useful to courts “if arson could mean t he same thing wherever it is applied” and called for “more uniform legal interpretations” of arson throughout the nation.

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