A very fatal fire incident took place in Cameron Todd Willingham’s home about two decades ago. According to Craig Beyler, a forensic scientist, the cause of the fire is still a mystery. The case is getting much obsolete with time yet the public also grows much impatient with time. The fire claimed the lives of his three children and led to his conviction as an arsonist. This goes to show that there was limited knowledge during the 1990s as compared to the current situation. This is a major setback in the forensic world because when new advancements are developed, the old cases could be considered as having been wrongly judged.
Nowadays, a number of countries invest a lot of effort into the fight with fire. They refer to this as ‘a war on fire’, according to the name commonly used in the United States (David, 2009). There also exists a war between the fire experts. Arson investigators view themselves as part of the homicide investigators. On the other hand, the explosives experts view themselves as the terror specialists. This notion of specialization at times brings a lot of confusion when dealing with fire incidents, as every expert has a different view on the matter. There are field experts and laboratory specialists and it is very difficult to pinpoint who exactly should testify in court as they both claim to be forensic experts. This leads to some experts giving very hypothetical evidence in the courts due to lack of the complete chain of evidence in the case.
The police department claims to deal with bomb issues where they only manage to only retrieve and dispose of the bomb sample. This is far from the role of an arson expert. The overlapping roles coupled with the problems of the jury further add to the confusion. Fires require very elaborate on-site investigations which is always not done with much care. As much as various governments strive much to fight the menace of fire, there are a number of issues that are still barring them from optimal performance (Dominick et al, 2009).
Some individuals decide to engage in arson due to financial benefits, crime concealing, anger, revenge, politics or simply for lack of attention. Bombs are also a major form of arson which could be given a broad outlook. This sector experiences a lot of difficulty in running their affairs as very few bomb experts are available in most of the countries. The experts also face a major challenge from individuals who use very simple bombs called pipe bombs. These increased in recent times and present a big challenge to the experts.
The other major problem with fires and arson is that a lot of firefighters perish in the line of duty. In 1999, 112 firefighters lost their lives while tackling blazes in the United States. This represented a 28% increase from the year 1998. Other factors, including overwork, stress and overexertion, are seen as major contributing factors leading to the injury and death of firefighters (Bartol and Bartol, 2010). The patterns in which structures have been in some areas become a major impediment when fighting fires. Some streets are too narrow for firefighting vehicles and equipment to pass through to the site of the fire. For example, in most developing countries, it is very difficult to reach the structures located in the slums since the houses are constructed such that any moving vehicle cannot move closer to them. This creates a lot of difficulty when fighting fires in these places. It is also very funny as these very places are prone to fire outbreaks due to the informal lifestyle existing in the areas.
Since structures are the most abundant in most towns and cities, they become the major source of fire outbreaks. Home fires have been increasing at an alarming rate in recent times. The sites that are prone to fire outbreaks include hotels, lodgings, hostels, motels and dormitories. According to the statistics, about 80% of deaths caused by fire and arson took place in the home setting. Vehicles and cars have also become major culprits as they cause most deaths. False fire alarms have been blamed for the outbreak of most fires. In 1999 alone, the US reported over 2 million false alarms. Out of these about 45% were as a result of malfunction on the part of the machine while others were either malicious, bombs or unintentional (Bartol and Bartol, 2010).
There are a number of fire investigation success stories. In Florida, Tampa Fire Department was faced with over 30 cases of fire incidents. This forced the municipal authorities to look into ways of improving the firefighting department. It involved the transfer of several officials alongside their supervisors. Police officers were offered thorough training on the origin and causes of fires. Fire and arson investigators were also trained on the various criminal investigative series (Daied, 2004). The partnering of the investigators and the police created an unparalleled team of experts. The team had at its disposal forensic evidence support, intelligence and equipment needed for the fight of bombs and arson cases.
The other issue was developed at the Arson Task Force formed in Chester County in Coatesville. In 2008 and 2009, a series of fires rocked the community of Coatesville. The number of cases stood at about 70 over the period of two years. After these incidents, a state of emergency was declared which required individuals to climb up buildings. Police offices were assigned to take care of the structures, help the affected families and vacate dangerous places. Fire safety equipment was purchased without proper budgetary allocations. A task force that comprised the FBI, police department and ATF was formed immediately. Residents were advised to clear their porches, turn on the security lights and to take their trash out only in the morning. They were also supplied with smoke detectors (Daied, 2004). Police intensified their patrols during nighttime hours. Community policing was encouraged where individuals would inform the police of any malicious movements and activities. The task force launched a massive investigation which led to the arrest of several arsonists.
The Portland Fire and Rescue in Oregon had to respond to four major car fire incidents in the city. While on night patrol some investigators realized that a fire in a car pack in a residential area simply caught fire due to a spreading fire from the burning trash. They woke up the sleeping family and aided them to safety while calling for firefighting team. With their canine units, they combed the area properly and arrested a suspect who is believed to be connected to the other arson incidents (Daied, 2004).
Although there are a number of issues of forensic concern, fire and arson still proves to be the most rife and dangerous nowadays. It is indeed very true and justified as the paper has extensively covered what fire and arson forensics entails. The forensic science has indeed undergone various transformations. The forensic sector has experienced major changes after the advent of computers which reduced or eliminated paperwork. Fire investigation requires different steps which must be followed to the letter to establish exact causes of arson. Some failures have also been seen in the fire and arson forensics where investigators and the laboratory specialists vied for superiority in the field. Successes have also been experienced in several parts of the world as illustrated above. Without proper care, fire arson could have become a world wide disaster as current trends indicate.