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.
As the practice of fire investigation has advanced, NFPA 921 has grown. The guide is normally updated every 3 years and the 2017 edition has recently been released. The guide now stands at 426 pages, quite an increase from the 120 pages of the original 1992 edition. Major changes or additions in the 2017 edition include: Active Fire Protection Systems, Documentation of the Investigation, and numerous changes to chapters on Origin Determination and Fire Cause Determination among others.
NFPA 921 continues to be used in the courts as a document that establishes the “standard of care” in fire investigation. As such, investigators should be familiar with its requirements and apply them as a working framework to accomplish an effective fire or explosion investigation that reaches a sound conclusion. Investigators should keep abreast of changes to NFPA 921 as a part of their continuing education activities.
John Holecek, senior consulting engineer at Warren, is a licensed professional engineer in 8 states and has both a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of South Carolina. A certified fire and explosion investigator by the National Association of Fire Investigators, John has more than 23 years experience in the design of industrial process equipment and is extremely knowledgeable in ICC, NFPA and OSHA codes and standards. He pairs more than 13 years of experience supervising manufacturing operations with deep knowledge in areas such as applied industrial heat transfer in oven design, industrial electrical process and motor control systems, material handling systems and fire protection systems. In addition he’s designed paint finishing systems, and commercial and consumer gas fired cooking appliances. John has managed outside contractors in site safety requirements and installation of industrial process equipment. By virtue of his experience, he is well versed in federal and state worker safety regulations.