Menu
0

800-523-2319experts@tasanet.com

Articles

Interviewing and Timeline Skills Your Fire Investigation Expert Needs

TASA ID: 1436

During investigation of a fire, information comes from all around the investigator, who should have a way of assembling and ordering it when the smoke clears (literally) in order to successfully determine the origin and cause of a fire. At a fire scene there is limited time to collect witness statements and details from examination of the scene.  A fire investigator may be at the scene with other investigators, but the opinion formed needs to be solely his or hers. Investigators must take the time to push out the clutter of everyone around them and put everything in its place.

There are plenty of articles on interviewing and asking the right questions, but all can be distilled into the ability to listen.  All too often investigators are tempted to use a form that will contain all the questions with orderly check boxes.  A good investigator conducting an interview with witnesses should put aside the forms for a few minutes and just let the witnesses tell their story without interrupting, and if possible, without distracting witnesses by writing while they speak. If the investigator is constantly writing or interrupting, the witness will often wonder what is so important and start analyzing what he or she is saying more carefully. Fire investigators should just listen and nod their heads that they understand, even if they don't.  Witnesses want to share their excitement, and yes, investigators will often encounter a witness with what I call the "hero complex" that the interviewer must steer carefully around. Once a witness is finished telling his or her story, then the investigator can ask questions- some of which have already been answered.  That first rush to tell a story is of great value to the investigator who listens. Some witnesses may be intimidated by the investigator, and in letting them tell their story, you will often receive more insight and information than an authoritative interview will accomplish.

Investigators don't have to accept as fact all that is said. People can and will try to influence the investigation. If investigators are drawn in to witness opinions, they will end up in the wrong spot at the end of the investigation. Investigators can give weight to witness statements at a later time when all of the evidence is collected and ordered.  Investigators can always come back to that witness later in the day.  I often save something I want to know for the doorknob question- that's when I say thanks for everything and close out, and then as I reach for the doorknob (real or imagined), I turn and say- oh, by the way and ask that question as an afterthought. The doorknob question can often be the one that puts everything else in perspective because the witness thinks he or she is done and answers quickly.

After returning to the office, the investigator starts to sift through what has been learned at the fire scene.  Witness statements, fire department response records, and investigation of the fire scene are all important parts of the collective information that has to fit a fire growth scenario. A timeline lets the investigator order information. Later, if the case goes to trial and the investigator is deposed, a timeline will help keep things in perspective. Those witness statements that were first listened to, and other recorded and observed information, all have to fit, or they begin to smell like fish left in the fridge too long.

A timeline should be the starting point for fire investigations. A large eraser board in an office will work while the case is active. The investigator should take a photo of the board before erasing it and place it in case files.  If done well, a timeline can transform a complicated set of events into a credible path to understanding the fire. If done poorly, a timeline becomes quicksand that will sink clear thinking and distract the investigator from the solution.

A timeline is simple to design and produce, and investigators can have several, especially at the beginning.  A timeline based on the fire department records is a good place to start since it's accurate and readily available. Receipt of alarm, arrival of the first company, a fire ground chief officer taking over, and the dispatch or release of units all are detailed with actual time.  Witness statements, photographs, and video from a local TV station on a second timeline can fall into place around the fire department's recorded events (Is that the chief's car and the fire is venting from the north window When did he arrive? - Bada Bing). I once tracked the fire department water use on an apartment fire based upon when pumpers arrived, setup times and type of lines employed. The fire didn't go out until they had enough water on the fire, plain and simple, as described in fire training manuals.  Finally, there is the fire growth timeline.   Each of these can exist independently in the beginning and be effectively merged into a single timeline later.

Fire Investigators must be careful not to manipulate their timelines to fit their theories.  I once had a fire that had a 15 minute growth from the time the wife left the house to when flames shot out of the roof above the living room.  Fires can grow that quickly, but need a reason, and it nagged at me and was the weak spot in the timeline.  The fire department investigator had taken a statement on when she left for work, but not the length of her commute. I read the wife's deposition, where she had stated that she arrived at work on time that morning and also stated that she left with no flame or smoke in the living room. Then she named the hospital where she worked in another city.  A quick check of MapQuest, and all of a sudden, my fire growth scenario had 45 minutes in which to break through the roof, making it more plausible. I then had a problem with the wife's testimony.  The fire growth on the timeline was more plausible to flashover, and it changed my opinion of the fire from accidental to incendiary. A sister-in-law's deposition about the wife's gambling problems hinted at motive.

In the words of Johnny Cochran, "If it don't fit, you must acquit!" If the timeline has holes in it, the investigator must continue to look for the answers, or the fire will be undetermined. A timeline forces the investigator to look at the facts in the fire growth scenario that must be addressed. A fire is bound by the limits of physics and the fire triangle of heat, oxygen and fuel.  The scientific method limits where you can go with opinions, and when a timeline is part of a fire investigator's methodology, it supports opinions reached.

There are two basic types of timelines- the linear and the comparative.

Linear timelines carry the user through an event that has occurred over a period of time. They typically consist of one subject and one time frame.  The fire department timeline is a linear timeline.

Comparative timelines also carry the user through an event as it occurred over a period of time but contains two or more subjects.  This is the "who saw or did what, when" timeline.

I hold onto individual timelines until I have reached a conclusion about the case and then file them away as a part of the discovery production. In the end, I may merge timelines if possible, but there are some considerations there as well.  A timeline with too much data becomes confusing, and while it's a visual record, it should also be designed to communicate what the investigator knows to others on the investigation team or later in court. Witness statements that are contrary to the timeline are removed after a good vetting against the other data. The timeline can help substantiate why a statement was or should be discarded when the opposing attorney claims it is being ignored.

A timeline is a wonderful demonstrative aid in court. Have it technically enhanced for a large monitor.  There is nothing wrong with having two timelines on the same sheet with the simple linear fire department recorded times on the top and the comparative timeline below. Referencing each solidifies opinions, and everyone can see that opinions are ordered and logical. Attorneys can use timelines to point out key trial testimony that has occurred.  In court, wrap investigators' testimony around the timelines, and they will be more credible.

When designing a timeline, investigators should consider these guiding principles:

1.    Determine what they want to accomplish with the timeline for themselves and in explaining it to others.

2.    Choose the linear or comparative timeline and stay within the bounds for each.

3.    Keep it simple!  Complicated timelines can confuse the entire courtroom, including the investigator.

4.    Establish a visual hierarchy by separating subjects in a definitive way by color, placement above or below the timeline, circles and squares around similar information sources, or any other method that helps to include everything.

5.    The investigator should start with a large timeline. An eraser board or paper works equally well.  Using 11X17 sketchpads with a grid can help keep things more organized. The investigator should start with time 0 on the far left, place fire out on the far right, and fill in intermediate times from there.  If investigators use a large pad, they can hold it up for others to see and use it to explain easily what is happening.

Timelines should be clear and concise so that others can pick them up and understand them.

When a case goes to trial, a timeline can become a teaching tool for the jury. The slick one on the big LED screen will work. However, if the investigator is sitting in the box with his or her hand- drawn timeline introduced as evidence, the jury will buy into the investigator being a real pro and not a mouthpiece for the attorney. Having the investigator hold it up to the jury and put red stars on key points as he or she addresses the jury directly will engage the jury every time over the big fancy LED version. That larger-format sketchpad timeline will stand out from the stack of paper evidence when it's placed on the conference table in the jury room during deliberations, and it will be picked up. That paper timeline will be the one they pass around in the jury room and that the jury bounces opposing testimony against if it's introduced. An investigator who uses a timeline as an investigative tool imparts to the jury key information that sticks.

In fire investigation, the goal is to reach a determination about the fire. A good investigator listens to what others want to say at the fire scene and reduces the facts to timelines to make certain that opinions are ordered, based upon facts, and supported by information collected.

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.

This article may not be duplicated, altered, distributed, saved, incorporated into another document or website, or otherwise modified without the permission of TASA.

Previous Preventing Corporate Fraud
Next Food Safety and Related Issues
Print
Tasa ID1436

Name:
Email:
Subject:
Message:
x

Let Us Find Your Expert 

Note: This form is to be completed by legal and insurance professionals ONLY. If you are a party in a case that requires an expert witness, please have your attorney contact TASA at 800-523-2319.

Submit

Search Experts

TASA provides a variety of quality, independent experts who meet your case criteria. Search our extensive list of experts now.

Search Experts

Testimonials

  • I think it's always good to have access to experts when [TASA] make[s] the process so easy."

    Scott McIntosh, Lewis McIntosh & Teare, Royersford, PA

  • As a busy practitioner, managing a sizeable caseload, I can use all of the help available to me. If I can outsource a task, particularly one as important as securing a qualified expert, I will jump at the opportunity. I use TASA in nearly every case where I need to find an expert witness, be it an engineer, an architect, an economist, etc. They have thousands of qualified experts to refer in virtually any field. Best of all the process is extremely simple. When I need an expert I simply contact TASA, whose knowledgeable representatives ask you targeted questions about your case, your legal theories, and your goals, in order to find the right expert for your case. I usually receive CVs and calls from the potential expert within hours. If you find the originally selected person is not a good fit – for whatever reason – TASA will work with you to find the right person. I would happily recommend this service to any attorney."

    Patrick K. Gibson, Gibson & Perkins PC, Media, PA

  • Ms. Darlie I. McDonald RN was awesome on the witness stand, and we prevailed in our case to the tune of  [a] (highly unusual [amount] for a medical malpractice [case] in our area).  I'd highly recommend her."

    Shane Reed, Shane A. Reed Law Office, Jacksonville, OR

  • I appreciate your inquiries and offers of assistance as well as the consistently high-quality, well-organized, and erudite TASA webinars, which invariably have excellent presenters."

    Maurice S. Kane, Cummings McClorey Davis Acho and Associates PC, Riverside, CA

  • Steven Kursh was an outstanding technical expert on our ecommerce IP lawsuit. He completed a massive amount of work on extremely complicated material, in a very short period of time. His work product was first rate and I think he would have done a terrific job if the case proceeded to trial. He is very articulate and helped us. I only wish we had gotten him involved sooner in the litigation."

    Daniel J. Brown, Reiss Sheppe LLP, New York, NY

  • I thank you all for the response to my request for an expert witness...Both Mr. Scott and Mr. Bianchi appear to be well-qualified for this case, but we have hired another expert. As always, I was impressed by TASA's ability to produce exceptionally well-qualified candidates with great speed."

    John Thomas Dzialo, The Law Offices of John Thomas Dzialo, Santa Ana, CA

  • Thank you for your quick response and the names of the two proposed experts. The situation that gave rise to our search for these experts has resolved and we will not need to retain them. However, we will continue to keep TASA in mind as these needs arise from time to time as your breadth of coverage for experts of all types is unparalleled, in my experience."

    Bart W. Brizzee, County of San Bernadino, San Bernadino, CA

  • I have used TASA for the last five years for locating an expert for many personal injury cases. On each and every occasion, TASA was able to find me more than one qualified expert. With such a variety of experts, I was able to select one who met my client's needs in prosecuting these claims. I found the experts TASA referred not only qualified, but available on a moment's notice. Your fees are reasonable and fair, and I will continue to use TASA for the remainder of my career."

    Robert Oushalem, Esq., The Law Office of Robert Oushalem, San Jose, CA

  • I recently used TASA for the first time to locate an expert to testify in a case requiring rather unusual expertise and where there were no applicable regulations or standards for guidance. TASA referred an expert in California who was everything a lawyer looks for in a forensic expert. He was promptly available for consultation, efficiently prepared for deposition and trial and very persuasive and credible with the jury. TASA's administrative services and assistance in locating this expert were excellent, and we would certainly use both the expert and TASA in the future."

    Theodore Phillips, Miller Hauser Law Group, LLP, Placerville, CA

  • TASA has always given me first-class service, but in a recent matter, TASA found the 'needle-in-the-haystack' expert witness we feared didn't exist. We needed an expert for a very narrow and limited issue in a very narrow and limited industry. Because TASA has an extensive expert witness database, it was able to give us a referral almost on the spot. It's why I always turn to TASA first."

    Kathleen A. Herdell, Law Offices of Kathleen A. Herdell, St. Helena, CA

  • There are numerous companies that provide litigation experts. However, I always choose the TASA Group because of their quick response in finding a qualified expert for my particular case. I have extreme confidence in the TASA Group and will continue to use their services in the future."

    Katie A. Killion, Esq., Chiurazzi & Mengine, LLC, Pittsburgh, PA

  • I spent hours trying to locate an expert in a very technical case involving a defect in a medical device. I could have saved a lot of time by calling TASA first. Within hours, I was supplied with the name of an engineer who had more than 30 years of job training, education and expertise in the precise area involving the device. Bravo TASA!"

    Timothy W. Peach, Partner, Peach & Weathers, San Bernardino, CA

  • We were involved in a case pending for more than five years with seven parties from three states. Three mediations failed before we looked to TASA for an expert. TASA referred an expert who clearly understood the complexity of the project and could effectively support his opinion. If it weren't for his expert advice and deposition testimony, the case would not have settled. Interestingly, the case settled within 90 days from the date this expert began."

    Renee Colbert, Esq., Corporate Counsel, W.G. Tomko, Inc., Finleyville, PA

  • Using TASA to find experts for defending our client in a negligent homicide case ended up being one of the most important decisions we made in trial preparation. The experts they suggested were exactly what we needed for the case. I truly did not expect to find experts that would be such a perfect fit for the nature of case. TASA provided us with highly qualified experts in somewhat narrow fields of expertise. A large percentage of our victory is due to the experts recommended by TASA."

    Marta Farmer, Esq., Carl S. White Law Office, Haver, MT

  • I have used TASA's services since the 1980's and have never been disappointed. TASA is indispensable for locating that hard-to-find expert. TASA representatives have always been courteous and pleasant, with the attitude that they cannot do enough to help. I expect to continue using TASA throughout my career."

    Brad W. Greenberg, Esq., Smyth Law Offices, P.C., Brockton, MA

  • I needed to retain a multitude of scientists from a variety of disciplines for a complex litigation. Initially, I went through a series of interviews with an extremely knowledgeable and professional team of TASA advisors. They were able to find highly qualified experts in the specific fields, all of whom turned out to be superior in qualification and area of expertise to my adversary’s experts. I am a TASA believer!"

    Nooshin Namazi, Partner, Nicoletti Hornig & Sweeney, New York, NY

  • TASA always comes through in the difficult IP cases. Their representatives work with you to refine the search criteria and quickly send you a list of very qualified experts."

    Timothy L. Boller, Principal, Seed Intellectual Property Law Group, PLLC, Seattle, WA

  • Special thanks to our TASA referral advisor for her quick response to our initial request—we were extremely happy with how fast TASA was able to assist us! Your group does excellent work, and it is always my first stop when looking for an expert."

    Susanne K. Sullivan, Senior Attorney, Southwest Airlines Corporation, Dallas, TX

  • When we needed an expert in a patent infringement lawsuit, we turned to TASA. We were looking for a witness qualified in two unrelated technical areas, and TASA worked with us to identify and refine our requirements. TASA performed well, promptly providing us with several excellent candidates to consider, one of whom we retained."

    Joseph T. Miotke, Partner, IP Practice Group, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, Milwaukee, WI

  • Our team had a very positive experience with TASA. The Expert was professional, efficient, and certainly an expert in his field. His work and testimony contributed to a winning decision for our client! We will recommend the Expert and TASA whenever appropriate."

    Stephanie Sprague, Esq., CT

  • (The Expert) WAS A PERFECT FIT for my case: qualified, competent, easy to work with, attentive to detail, knowledgeable, smart, communicative, enthusiastic, resourceful—have I left anything out? I highly recommend TASA and would be happy to share my experience with anyone else. Thank you!"

    Michael Porrazzo, Esq., The Porrazzo Law Firm, Mission Viejo, CA

  • The expert was very thorough. TASA was quick to respond with an answer to my request. I have used TASA in the past under various other law firms and have been pleased. TASA continues to live up to expectations and then some."

    Anne Desormier-Cartwright, Esq., Jupiter, FL

  • Your organization found us an appropriate expert witness in less than one day. This was excellent service. The expert you found was excellent and a pleasure to work with."

    William A. Ehrlich, Esq., Allentown, PA

  • (The Expert)…accomplished exactly what we wanted. TASA was very prompt and efficient in locating him. All fees were reasonable."

    J. Michael Lehman, Esq., Bruce, Bruce, & Lehman, Wichita, KS

  • We needed an Internet expert right away to meet a deadline. One phone call to TASA, and in less than a day, TASA called back with a list of 8-10 experts who were exactly what I needed. The TASA expert I chose knew the business and mechanics of the Internet so well—he was a PhD and professor who had written a book on the subject—that he put the fear of truth in the defendant that caused him to settle. When I get the kind of service that I did from TASA, I stick with it and use it again and again."

    Philip Green, Attorney at Law, Green and Green, San Rafael and San Francisco, CA

  • Excellent—in a word. I just do not have the time to hunt for experts. (The Expert) was fantastic. Thank you for providing such a quality service."

    Francesca Carinci, Esq., Steubenville, OH

  • TASA stands for Tops At Serving Attorneys. It’s always rewarding working with TASA."

    Marshall A. Bernstein, Esq., Philadelphia, PA.

  • That was, however, one of the best and most interesting webinars I've seen in the last few years.  Thank you for hosting it and introducing me to such a knowledgeable and caring person." - Referencing the Medicolegal Consequences of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Civilian and Military Populations webinar. 

    Lori Bauer Apodaca, The Law Office of Lori Bauer Apodaca, Los Lunas, NM 

  • I needed a dental malpractice expert to assist me in a complex negligence claim. The very able staff at TASA had no difficulty identifying a knowledgeable professional who rendered a reasonable opinion in support of the case, which aided our client in receiving a fair amount of compensation. I am grateful to TASA for its invaluable assistance!"

    John Hermina, Hermina Law Group, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland & Washington, DC

  • For many years I have relied upon TASAmed to provide excellent medical malpractice experts. As a sole practitioner, I find it reassuring to know that a seasoned expert is just a call away. Usually, TASAmed has found just the right expert in a day or two. The support and guidance I receive from TASAmed is a vital part of my law practice, and I have come to expect both great service and high rewards from my TASA cases."

    Thomas J. Massey, The Thomas J. Massey Law Firm, Fallbrook, CA

  • The caliber of physicians that TASAmed has referred to us is superb. Prior referral groups used the same experts over and over again. With TASAmed I have access to experts all over the United States. I’m not limited to the same experts. The TASAmed staff is easy to work with and very professional, with an established track record. When I call for a medical expert, I’m called back the same day, and I often have an idea of what expert will be contacted before my first call is completed."

    Kari Alexander, Certified Legal Nurse Consultant, Texas

  • We hadn’t been able to find the medical expert we needed, and, frankly, I didn’t think we’d find one in that field. TASAmed was able to find us an expert with the exact expertise and medical experience we needed. Your referral advisor was very helpful and found our expert in one day."

    Kurt Osenbaugh, Partner, Alston & Bird, Los Angeles, CA

  • TASAmed’s service was prompt and efficient in connecting us with the right person. The expert was so cooperative and helpful. With how challenging it is to find a narrow area of medical expertise, it’s extra helpful to have your TASAmed pool to plug into instantaneously."

    Greg Roosevelt, Esq., Law Office of Greg Roosevelt, Edwardsville, IL

  • TASAmed has connected me to credible experts in four medical cases just this year. TASAmed and the referred experts respond quickly, the fees are reasonable, and the referrals are well tuned to the fields I request. Since the experts are already associated with TASAmed, they are comfortable having substantial conversations about the case, both before and after record review."

    Martin A. Cannon, Esq., Cannon Law Offices, Crescent, IA

  • I have used TASAmed a number of times and have always been happy with your give-and-take timeliness. Once I requested a medical expert in a particular field, but, after speaking with your referral advisor, we concluded that an expert in another field would be more effective. That same day, I spoke to two experts the advisor gave me, and I retained one."

    Mark A. Lope, Esq., Lope and Honlihan, Butler, PA

  • Very close to the time of trial, the TASAmed advisor quickly referred me to several experienced ER trauma physicians to review medical records and prepare me for cross-examination. After selecting my expert, I over-nighted records for review, and the doctor found valuable information for my client's defense. Thank you, TASAmed, for this timely, specific, valuable referral."

    Charles Morgan, Esq., Law Office of Charles L. Morgan, Jr., Charlotte, NC