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Control measure
Incident Handover

Control measure knowledge

The handover phase of an investigation may take place directly at the scene or at a later stage, once all the scene work has been completed. The nature of a handover will be influenced by the scene or the nature of the investigation and may range from a formal and documented handover to a verbal briefing.

Where a statutory body is taking over, an appropriate level of formality should be employed and all reasonable effort should be taken to avoid the compromise of any evidence recovered.

For non-statutory agencies, local protocols or an assessment of each incident on its own merits will determine the extent to which the fire and rescue service can assist with an on-site handover or maintenance of scene security. Most commonly, this category includes investigators employed by, or acting on behalf of, insurers.

When the party taking over the scene does not have a statutory role, the fire and rescue service should be able to satisfy itself that it is the appropriate body or person to take responsibility for the scene.

The physical transfer of the scene between agencies, notably after fire and rescue service operations, is an important stage. It is very easy for scene management practices to be reduced or lapse during the transition. The fire and rescue service may be keen to remove any equipment still deployed and have a last walk round the scene. The organisation taking over may want to view the scene, either escorted by the fire and rescue service or not. Good cordon and scene management will limit the potential for valuable evidence to be lost or compromised.

The handover should include:

  • Incident history (the incident and actions of the fire and rescue service, members of the public or other first responders)
  • Facts relevant to the investigation (methodology and actions taken so far)
  • Safety issues (possibly including risk assessment findings)
  • Other issues that may have had an impact on the scene or be of relevance to the investigation (e.g. witness details)

For formal handovers, it may be useful to record the names and signatures of the responsible individuals from each agency.

It is important to remember that, where a scene is handed back to the owner or occupier, some of this information may be provided.

Handing over the scene or investigation may not be the end of fire and rescue service involvement and the fire and rescue service may continue to play a supporting role. In this case, fire and rescue service personnel should make themselves familiar with the working protocols of the lead agency.

Liaison

Scene-based liaison will often tie in to existing local protocols and incident management systems, particularly with statutory partners who will be familiar with this type of working.

Maintaining liaison away from the scene can be more difficult and the principle of providing single or named points of contact can ensure efficient and appropriate practices. This can be particularly important when managing the exchange or submission of documents, other evidence or where interviews may be requested. Too many informal contacts can compromise the organisations or evidence and result in no one having a full knowledge of the investigation.

Where the details of other parties are not known at the time, it can be useful to have a general contact point for initial enquires that can be readily accessed, for example, through the fire and rescue service website.

In all cases, a managed approach to liaison can ensure that the investigation is progressed effectively; each agency can track their involvement and actions, with decisions set out and explained at a later stage if required.

Having clear protocols for formal and informal liaison processes will assist management of the investigation. Informal processes are particularly open to misinterpretation, where one party may feel they had an 'off the record' conversation only for it to be used subsequently and attributed to them as evidential material.

Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services should:
  • Develop tactical guidance and support arrangements for the actions to take to hand over responsibility for a fire scene and/or investigation, in consultation with partner emergency services and agencies

  • Ensure appropriate arrangements are in place for handing over a scene

Tactical actions

Incident commanders should:
  • Hand over responsibility for removed items and security of premises to the responsible person or the police

  • Notify investigators if crews have recently attended other incidents where cross contamination may have happened

  • Liaise with the police and local authority support teams at incidents involving serious injury and fatalities