Arriving at the Fire and/or Arson Scene: Completing the Investigation

Once evidence has been collected and processed, the investigator must complete the investigation and release the scene. He or she should follow these steps:

Note: This section of the guide is intended for the individual responsible for the investigation of a fire incident. At the time the scene is determined to involve an arson or other crime, the investigator must address legal requirements for scene access, search and evidence seizure.

Release the scene. The investigator should release the scene after reasonable efforts have been made to identify, collect and remove all evidence from the scene for examination and that all physical characteristics of the scene have been documented. In addition, prior to releasing the scene, associated legal, health and safety issues must be articulated to the party taking over the investigation and reported to public safety agencies if necessary.

The investigator should ensure that the following tasks are completed before releasing the scene:

  • Perform a final critical review:
    • Ensure that all evidence is inventoried and in custody.
    • Discuss preliminary scene findings with team members.
    • Discuss postscene issues including forensic testing, insurance inquiries, interview results and criminal histories.
    • Assign postscene responsibilities to law enforcement personnel and other investigators.
    • Address legal considerations.
  • Verify that all scene documentation has been completed.
  • Address structural, environmental, health and safety issues.
  • Remove all investigative equipment and materials.
    • Recover and inventory equipment.
    • Decontaminate equipment and personnel.
  • Document the following information:
    • Time and date of release.
    • Receiving party.
    • Authority releasing the scene.
    • Condition of the scene at the time of release (e.g., structural, environmental, health and safety issues). Consider photographing and/or videotaping the final condition of the scene.
    • Cautions given to the receiving party upon release (e.g., safety concerns, conditions, evidence, legal issues).

Submit reports to the appropriate databases. The responsible agencies must file incident reports with the appropriate databases. Detailed fire information is collected, integrated and disseminated through national and State databases. These data help authorities identify fire trends and develop innovative procedures and equipment.

The investigator should collect sufficient information and report it to the following databases:

  • Arson and Explosives National Repository (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms).
  • Bomb Data Center (Federal Bureau of Investigation).
  • National Fire Incident Reporting System (U.S. Fire Administration).
  • National Incident-Based Reporting System (Federal Bureau of Investigation).
  • State and local fire incident reporting systems.
Date Created: June 1, 2009