An ongoing emergency and the actions of responders can affect evidence required for an investigation.
Fires, floods or other emergencies can destroy or significantly alter structures, vehicles and objects. With every passing minute, key evidence may be lost before the fire and rescue service arrives. On arrival at the scene, it is important that incident commanders and firefighters consider their firefighting tactics and actions to ensure, wherever possible, that evidence is protected and preserved and the scene is not contaminated by the activities of the responding crews. The unintended consequence of simple actions such as washing down equipment after an incident may destroy or obfuscate evidence.
Where evidence cannot be preserved physically, information to support investigations should be captured in other forms. See: Control Measure - Accurate records and statements.
Once in attendance, the fire and rescue service can ensure that as much evidence as possible is preserved. Identify potential evidence and take steps to preserve or retrieve it where it may be lost during operations.
Incident commanders should confirm:
- All information relating to the incident
- Whether life has been confirmed extinct if there is a deceased person at the scene
- Age, gender, name and contact details of the deceased, casualties, witnesses and agencies (utilities, etc.) in attendance
- Information recorded by the entry control operative, if required
- Entry route and tactical methods used to effect entry
- Doors and windows open or broken at the time of the incident
- Emergency fire vehicle call signs – helping to establish if CCTV is available from appliances
Other sources of information, may include:
- CCTV on the emergency fire vehicles
- Local CCTV
- Fire/burglar alarm systems at the scene, including any remote, offsite recording systems
- Mobile phone recordings made by eye witnesses (video or conversations), potentially downloaded to local news sites or social media feeds
The positions of fatally injured casualties are extremely important for identification purposes and to help establish cause. The removal of bodies should only be carried out under the direction of the police or statutory investigation team.
However, removing the bodies before the arrival of investigation teams or medical teams may be necessary to rescue survivors or to prevent the bodies being destroyed by fire or by some other hazard. Where this is the case, the position of the body and its location should be noted, labelled if possible and reported to the investigation team.
Rescuers who have moved bodies should be questioned and a statement should be made as soon as possible after the incident while the memory of their actions is relatively fresh and they can recall body positions accurately. Whenever possible, an officer should be appointed to map out as accurately as possible the location and position of bodies, bearing in mind that some incidents, especially high-speed crashes, may result in human remains being distributed over a wide area.
Any items that fall from the casualty or body whilst being moved should be collected, recorded and kept with the casualty or body if possible, as it may prove to be a means of identification.
It should also be remembered that bodies that have been badly burnt become brittle and are likely to fall apart if untrained personnel move them; this can destroy vital evidence of identification and cause of death.
It may be useful for photographs or video to be taken of the wreckage, the accident site and the position of the bodies. This can also assist in debriefing purposes.