Equipment and appliances supplied with fuel gases like natural gas, propane and butane are a common and convenient part of most of our lives. Such devices as gas grills and ranges, ovens, furnaces, space heaters and water heaters usually perform without incident. However, when they malfunction the potential for incidents such as fires and explosions, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and burn injuries may occur. These incidents may be due to design and manufacturing defects in the product, or improper installation or operation of the device.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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