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Fire News in Focus
by Adam K. Thiel

More resources needed for arson investigation

For those of us focused on fire, emergency "operations," arson investigation is often (literally) afterthought

By Adam K. Thiel

Editor's note: More than 50 arson fires have occurred in Novato, Calif., during the past three days. Fire officials say they "are throwing everything we got" at responding to continued fires and investigating the case.

Researchers, profilers, behavioral health professionals, and fire investigators have identified many different reasons that drive criminals to commit arson.

The motive for this string of arson fires, like the recent case in Los Angeles County, is not yet clear. Hopefully the criminal(s) responsible will be caught before a tragedy occurs.

With the continued reductions to federal, state, and local budgets from the ongoing economic crisis, it seems likely that our collective ability to identify, investigate, and prosecute arson suspects is also suffering.

Regardless of the responsible agency or agencies (and arson investigation is usually a "team sport"), a lack of resources in this important mission area will likely make these challenging cases even more difficult; potentially emboldening those who might see fire as the perfect weapon for settling scores, avoiding financial responsibility, or even waging war.

For those of us focused on fire and emergency "operations," arson investigation is often (literally) an afterthought.

Given the potential impact of this heinous crime on our citizens, communities, and firefighters, it's probably a good time to evaluate our capabilities, limitations, and commitment to this aspect of our "core" business.

Stay safe!

About the author

With more than two decades in the field, Chief Adam K. Thiel FireRescue1's editorial advisor is an active fire chief in the National Capital Region and a former state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chief Thiel's operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.

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