Forensic Engineers and Consultants

Blog Posts by: John Holecek

Author John Holecek

John_Holecek_WEB

Expertise Includes:

  • Electrical and Mechanical Control Systems
  • Fires and Explosions
  • Gas Fired Equipment and Appliances
  • ICC, NFPA, OSHA Codes and Standards
  • Industrial Processes and Operations
NFPA-921

New 2017 Edition of NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations

Author

Over the course of its 25-year history, NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations has changed the practice of fire investigation for the better.  Without a doubt, NFPA 921 has appropriately driven a more rigorous approach to fire investigation that seeks to avoid cognitive bias and reliance on techniques that, when rigorously examined, are little more than pseudoscience.  One need look no further than the Cameron Todd Willingham matter, wherein a Texas man was executed in part based on a flawed fire investigation, to understand the importance of conducting a proper fire investigation. Read More

Figure 1:  A view of the improperly constructed fireplace alleged to have caused the subject fire. 
 The hearth extension has been largely consumed in the fire.

Improper Fireplace Construction: Testing the Impact of Non-Compliant Clearance to Combustibles

Author

As the weather turns cold, many people use fireplaces to provide supplemental heat. The warmth from a fireplace is a comfort and the aesthetics of a glowing fire are a pleasure.  However, there is nothing pleasurable about a residential house fire that results from an improperly built or used fireplace or chimney. Read More

A joint lab examination  was conducted with an exemplar heater.

Analysis of Double Fatality Fire Allegedly Caused by a Portable Electric Heater

Author

When fires occur, the effect on people’s lives is often devastating. This is especially true with fires that cause the death of a child. Clearly it is important to try and find the causes of such fires so that they can be prevented in the future. In such circumstances, it is especially important to follow a rigorous methodology in investigating the origin and cause of a fire. Investigators following a less than rigorous methodology may reach improper conclusions. Such was the case in a devastating fire investigated by Warren that was improperly alleged to have been caused by a supposedly defective product, a small electric space heater.
Read More

Figure 2. A detail of the CAD model showing the area in which the firefighter was injured.

Firefighter burned due to improper industrial oven design and operation

Author

Industrial ovens and furnaces are used in many manufacturing processes.  One use of industrial ovens is for drying and curing coatings on fabrics.

I investigated a fire loss involving a very large oven, 10 stories high, used for curing coatings on an industrial fabric. A young firefighter was burned in response to this fire, one of a string of many fires that had occurred involving the oven.

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Figure 2:  One of twelve tests where a junction of LP gas charged CSST and 5 sections of energized NM cable were subjected to fire conditions.

Evaluating the Potential for “Victim” Holes Not Caused By Lightning in CSST

Author

Prior to becoming a forensic engineer, I spent many years in industry designing fuel gas fired equipment. This included designing gas grills, commercial cooking appliances, and large industrial systems.  I learned a lot about the safe use of natural gas and propane. Once I entered the forensic engineering field, that experience helped me in evaluating fires involving natural gas and propane equipment and piping systems. One such area that I have found particularly interesting are fires involving Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing (CSST).

CSST is a material used to plumb fuel gas inside structures.  It is used as an alternative to traditional black steel pipe or copper tubing. The stainless steel tube of CSST, in certain circumstances, will perforate when subjected to electrical arcing, including that due to local lightning strikes.  The escaping fuel gas from these perforations has obvious implications as to causing fires. Read More

Figure 2: A view of a typical PLC.  The blue and red wiring to the right terminate at the PLC’s input / output wiring connections. The processor is to the left at the keyed switch.  This PLC has capacity to communicate over an Ethernet data link.

Forensic Examination of Losses that Include Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC’s)

Author

Many modern machines and processes are controlled by Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC’s).  PLC’s are essentially computers that have the ability, properly connected and programmed, to interface with the outside world and control the actions of a machine like a robot or conveyor.  The PLC has a processor for processing the user programmed logic, and also has input / output (I/O) wiring provisions for both analog (e.g. temperatures and pressure transducers) and digital (e.g. limit switches and indicator lights) devices.  Read More

A view of a paint spray booth interior from a paint system I designed to paint truck chassis.  Air enters the ceiling of the booth, flows down over the workers and truck chassis, and then exits through the floor grates.  A wet scrubber system under the booth floor removed paint overspray from the air prior to exhausting the air to atmosphere.

New Technical Paper on Industrial Spray Paint Booths available through SME

Author

Prior to starting my forensic engineering career at Warren, I spent many years designing, manufacturing and installing industrial process equipment. Much of this equipment dealt with industrial painting systems or thermal processing systems. Read More

Gas valves from a process furnace that experienced an explosion. The final gas safety shut off valve has its wiring cover partially open. This can be an indication that someone was directly powering the valve and bypassing the control system safety logic. Open wiring covers on controls should be fully investigated.

Stay in Control: Manipulation of Electrical Controls Can Lead to Fires and Explosions

Author

We have a saying at Warren, “When we go to work on a new case, usually someone else has had a very bad day.” If you are a plant manager at a factory, you know it’s a bad day when you hear the fire alarm or a loud explosion emanating from the back of the plant. Read More

The interior of this chase and the surrounding roof framing was badly burned in a fire.  The fire resulted from construction defects in the installation of the chimney system.

Fire Losses Involving Improper Construction and Installation of Fireplaces and Chimneys

Author

On a cold winters night a family is gathered in the living room of their home enjoying the warmth of their fireplace.  After using the fireplace all day, they go off to bed to a nice restful sleep.  However, they are soon rudely waked by the sound of a smoke alarm in the home.  Rushing out into the cold night they can see smoke, but no flame in the home.  Outside, they can see that the chase around the fireplace chimney is burning.  The fire department is called and thankfully extinguishes the fire before it does widespread damage, however the family must leave the home for several months as repairs are made. Read More

A proper thermometer that includes an indication of dangerous temperatures and a needle stop.

Product Design is Critical to Consumer Safety

Author

As the holiday season nears, thoughts turn to wonderful home cooked meals with family.  Few things in life are more pleasurable than a traditional holiday turkey feast. Yet for an unfortunate few, holiday meal time can turn tragic if a turkey frying accident occurs.   While fried turkeys may be tasty, many fire safety experts feel that the reward is not worth the risk.  In fact, UL will not list a turkey fryer, even though a product safety standard, ANSI Z21.89 Outdoor Cooking Specialty Gas Appliances covers the product.  Additionally, the National Fire Protection Association discourages their use.  Links to these organizations’ statements on turkey fryers are included at the end of this blog. Consulting those links and watching a few online videos of a turkey fryer catching fire can be insightful, and a bit sobering, if you are thinking of frying a turkey.  Read More

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