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Control measure
Identify trends: Fires

Control measure knowledge

Trends may first be identified using analytical methods or software to interrogate the Incident Recording System (IRS). However, where desktop analysis identifies the presence of a trend, it may have insufficient information to provide a sufficient explanation or find a root cause.

The collection of additional information from the fire scene is one way in which this gap can be bridged. Once the key features of the trend have been identified, arrangements can be made to ensure that any future incidents matching it are appropriately investigated. Depending on the level of information, this may be suitable for operational crews or the specialist fire investigation team to collect. Consideration may be given to collecting information through a bespoke template where the nature of the information required is known (e.g. the make and model of a potentially faulty product).

An alternative means of identifying trends is through direct observations by an individual or crew at the scene of an incident. In this case, using analysis can help to supplement the initial information and identify the presence and size or scope of a wider trend. The key features can then be communicated and a fire investigation used to collect further data.

In either event, the role of a fire investigation will be to provide good quality and objective data from fires meeting the trend pattern. This may require the use of specialist fire investigation teams to attend fires outside their normal scope if the nature of the evidence required is difficult to collect or must comply with evidential standards.

The aim is, as far as possible, to establish the root cause; the fire investigation may help to explain not only the specific cause but to identify any contributory factors, including behavioural elements.

Trends can be identified through deviations in the expected patterns or frequency of existing events or by the emergence of new events. This includes the outcome of a fire, such as an unexplained increase in the number of injuries or size of fires.

For most incidents, the focus of the fire investigation is to identify the specific origin and cause of a fire. However, fire investigation techniques and knowledge are also ideal for collecting information to support wider future learning. These include using the scientific method, reading post-fire indicators, interviewing witnesses and knowledge of the fire behaviour of buildings, products and people, the interaction between these and how they may have contributed to the outcome (positively or negatively).

As an example, new methods of construction are continually being developed and will have undergone testing in accordance with the relevant standards. However, a difference in their expected performance in a fire may occur during the construction phase of building when not all the fire safety features are in place or due to their interaction with other products. Fire investigation can identify any deviation from expectations and seek to explain the reason.

Trends may first be identified using analytical methods or software to interrogate the Incident Recording System (IRS). However, where desktop analysis identifies the presence of a trend, it may have insufficient information to provide a sufficient explanation or find a root cause.

Once the opportunity for future learning has been identified, careful and early consideration should be given to the type and format of information required. This may include quantitative and qualitative data. Specific areas of interest or the standard to which they need to be collected should be agreed and stated. This needs to be communicated to the fire investigator. The use of audio, visual or written techniques may be employed at the scene for capturing raw evidence and later adapted for presentational or analytical purposes. Failure to collect the right type or quality of data can severely impair the ability to achieve a successful outcome.

Any changes to or flaws in the original data requirements should be communicated to the fire investigator with an explanation of the rationale. Equally, the fire investigator should communicate any significant findings at an early stage if it is possible they may affect the request. It should also be identified whether information from the scene will be sufficient on its own or require further research, including, in some cases, using partial or full-scale testing.

The collection of additional information from the fire scene is one way in which this gap can be bridged. Once the key features of the trend have been identified, arrangements can be made to ensure that any future incidents matching it are appropriately investigated. Depending on the level of information, this may be suitable for operational crews or the specialist fire investigation team to collect. Consideration may be given to collecting information through a bespoke template where the nature of the information required is known (e.g. the make and model of a potentially faulty product).

Away from the scene, the fire investigation community has a well-established network both in the UK and beyond. It also has links to other sectors or organisations and these can be employed to provide additional information on known issues or to see whether others have experienced anything similar.

It is also worth noting that the UK legislation provides powers of entry to support future learning. Consideration should also be given to having an appropriate policy relating to removing items from the fire scene in support of future learning. Failure to do so could compromise any insurance claim, leave the fire and rescue service open to challenge and compromise the evidential value of an item

Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services should:
  • Provide training, support and guidance for all staff appropriate to the level of investigation required by their role

  • Use all available systems to actively identify the potential for trends involving fires and share information with other agencies

Tactical actions

There are no tactical actions associated with this control measure.