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What You Need to Know Before Hiring a Fire and Explosion Investigator

by James T. Born, PI, CFI, INCI, MIAAI

In disclosure, and by way of introduction; My name is Jim Born. I have been licensed, continuously, as a California Private Investigator for over 44 years and have over 54 years of experience as a Private Investigator and Fire Investigator, including employment as a city, county and federal law enforcement officer. ESI is a world class fire investigation and multi-structured engineering firm, operating in 42 states, complete with their own Fire Testing Laboratory—staffed with 12 scientists.

I am also a Certified National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI) Fire and Explosion Investigator, a United States Government (SAM) authorized “Investigative Services” and “Fire Investigator” contractor, and a state of Nevada “Fire Investigator” EPRO contractor. I am a Subject Matter “Forensic Expert”, “Fire Investigator”, “Law Enforcement Instructor”, and law enforcement “Curriculum Reviewer”; for the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (they approve Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) for police in 45 states, as well as for the United States Department of Justice). I am a recognized “Fingerprint Expert” and “Forensic Expert” with the 8th Judicial District Courts (from different homicide cases).

However, I am not an attorney. With that said, I admonish you to always consult with a licensed attorney-at-law, before taking any actions or making any decisions based upon this writing, or any similar writings, that may affect you or your business. In addition, I have no malice or ill intentions towards anyone in the profession, and have only the good intentions of making the public aware of using good common sense before employing someone to conduct a fire or explosion investigation so they do not lose their case.

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It is my personal opinion that the fire investigation industry, has been flooded with unlicensed, unregulated, non-subject matter experts, and unqualified, untrained, undertrained and inexperienced men and women. Many of whom have incorporated, and are offering nationwide services as fire investigators and fire and explosion investigators under what they believe to be corporate veil protection. Because this is very evident in California, I am stepping forward, as a licensee whose business has become infringed on, to express my thoughts regarding this problem. If you are an insurance agency, an attorney, or someone looking to employ someone to investigate your fire or explosion event, you will want to take the few minutes necessary to read on, or instead suffer what may become a negative impact on your life.

Fire and explosions are a daily and unforgiving event. They often take lives, cause injuries, and destroy property. The human race has been trying to understand fire since the beginning of time, all whilst living alongside it. Since then we have learned a lot about the chemistry, movement and life of fire. However, there is still so much more we need to learn.

Some associations, such as the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) make it their business to learn about fire and to train others in fire investigations. I have recently completed my 89th course offered by their CFI-Trainer program, and can attest to their court relied NFPA 1033 “Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator” ed2022, and NFPA 921 “Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations” ed2021 professional training.

At some point, insurance agencies usually become involved following fires and explosions. Many actually employ the investigators themselves to determine the fire and/or explosion’s origin and cause. In essence, these investigators conduct the autopsy of the remaining structure, whatever or wherever that may be, on land or even sea. It is through their reports and evidence collection in which we rely on for answers. During the investigation process, the courts may become involved, as does the American jury system and ultimately, through due process, determines any existing dispute resolutions, as evidenced through expert testimony and physical evidence that was presented during the trial process. It is at this point where I place my emphasis and public concern.

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What the Court Looks At
First and foremost, in the state of California (and many other states) it is a misdemeanor criminal offense to conduct, or advertise services for, a fire or explosion investigation. Breaking this law is punishable by a first offense $10,000 fine, or by imprisonment of no more than one year—or by both. Not to forget: civil damages that usually follow unlicensed activity violations, that are always significant and can be expected to make a victim whole again.

California Law
Department of Consumer Affairs Chapter 11.3, Article 3 Private Investigators Act Section 7520: “No person shall engage in a business regulated by this chapter; act or assume to act as; or represent himself or herself to be, a licensee unless he or she is licensed under this chapter; and no person shall falsely represent that he or she is employed by a licensee.”

Section 7521.
“A private investigator within the meaning of this chapter is a person, other than an insurance adjuster subject to the provisions of Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 14000) of Division 5 of the Insurance Code, who, for any consideration whatsoever engages in business or accepts employment to furnish or agrees to furnish any person to protect persons pursuant to Section 7521.5, or engages in business or accepts employment to furnish, or agrees to make, or makes, any investigation for the purpose of obtaining, information with reference to:

• Crime or wrongs done or threatened against the United States of America or any state or territory of the United States of America.
• The identity, habits, conduct, business, occupation, honesty, integrity, credibility, knowledge, trustworthiness, efficiency, loyalty, activity, movement, whereabouts, affiliations, associations, transactions, acts, reputation, or character of any person.
• The location, disposition, or recovery of lost or stolen property.
• The cause or responsibility for fires, libels, losses, accidents, or damage or injury to persons or to property.
• Securing evidence to be used before any court, board, officer, or investigating committee.
• For the purposes of this section, a private investigator is any person, as defined in Section 7512.3, acting for the purpose of investigating, obtaining, and reporting to any employer, or an agent designated by the employer, information concerning the employer’s employees involving questions of integrity, honesty, breach of rules, or other standards of performance of job duties. This section does not apply to a public utility regulated by the Public Utilities Commission, or its employees.

(Amended by Stats. 2018, Ch. 92, Sec. 6. (SB 1289) Effective Nevada State Supreme Court Decision.)

Exception to Licensing
The State of Nevada Private Investigators Licensing Board v. Dwayne Tatalovich and Tatalovich & Associates Incorporated, In the Supreme court, State of Nevada, Case 58803, 129 Nev., Advance Opinion 61 (September 19, 2013). Referring to the Nevada Private Investigators Licensing Board: “Its licensing requirement does not apply to experts employed to give an opinion on some aspect(s) of a case where the expert witness performs duties and tasks within his or her field to verify or obtain information necessary to form the basis of the opinion testimony.”

About the Author
James has been a Private Investigator in California since 1978, and in Nevada since 1988. He also held a role as former Sheriff’s Captain (Chief of the Detective Bureau), 8th Judicial District Court recognized “Forensic Expert” and “Fingerprint Expert.” www.tristatedetectives.org

Written by
Working PI
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1 comment
  • Much respect to the author in this field of ours. We’ve never dabbled in the fire and explosion side of investigations, very interesting and thank you for your time to pass on knowledge..

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