Intuition Is Helpful To Fire Investigator
The drama of stake-outs, cautious surveillance and sophisticated investigation equipment might be exciting for the would-be Sherlock Holmes, but that’s not so for Norm Morgan. With more than 150 cases each year, Morgan is anything but bored. He sometimes spends upwards of 18 hours a day on his job.
He is a veteran of 18 years with the Anaheim, Calif., Fire Department, the past 12 of which have been in investigation. He personally investigated more than 2000 fires. Any blaze which is unusually large or causes damage in excess of $500 becomes the subject of another case for Morgan.
“It’s my job to determine the cause—accidental or intentional,” he said.
Arson has increased tenfold nationally, partially because of the increasing population. Economic trends also have an effect on the incidence of fraudulent fires.
Anaheim, the largest city in Orange County with more than 191,800 residents, has relatively few cases of arson for a city of its size, Morgan notes. Responsibility for arson investigation rests with the fire department, rather than the police department.
“We do receive the assistance of police detectives, including their photo and identification detail,” Morgan explained, “and we have access to the Orange County Sheriffs Department crime lab.”
However, when a series of incidents occur, it is Morgan who sits in the shadows on stake-outs, becomes involved in the chase of the suspect and works the long tedious hours which only a truly dedicated person will give. He also has the power to make arrests.
Much of his work involves the after-the-fact analysis.
“It’s easier said than done,” he notes.
Because of the destruction involved in fire, many clues which might help ascertain the origin are often lost during the blaze.
“This makes the intentional fire, set by the arsonist, especially hard to identify,” he continued.
Here is where the sophisticated tools of detection come into play—like the Vapo-Tester, a device which can detect the presence of minute amounts of flammable liquids in the air.
Morgan also has at his disposal the manpower of the entire nine-station department, if necessary, for sifting through the debris and carefully replacing each important puzzle part.
While the supplementary tools are often helpful, it is the clues found at the scene which are important to the investigation. There is one other thing which is helpful. “Intuition,” Morgan said, “and I guess you’d say that only comes with experience.”