Meet a NAFI member: Brian Henry

Meet a NAFI member: Brian Henry

Everyone at the National Association of Fire Investigators works hard to make sure our members reach their goals by supporting them with a variety of NFPA based trainings, certifications, and resources. When our members have the relevant education and resources that meet their needs, we’ve succeeded! We are proud of our team and are happy to share more about them with you.

Brian Henry is a Shareholder in the Sarasota, Florida office of Smith, Rolfes & Skavdahl Company, LPA.  Brian is nationally-recognized for his knowledge and experience on expert preclusion issues, having written and lectured extensively on the subject and having handled more than 100 Daubert-type challenges in cases throughout the country. Brian has served as an expert witness on the standard of care for attorneys handling fire science cases, and he is a frequent lecturer on fire science, expert preclusion, and product liability issues at conferences throughout the country.

Brian and his wife Elizabeth have been married for 20 years and have two children, Sydney, 11, and Cooper, 9. They relocated to Lakewood Ranch, Florida, from Connecticut five years ago. Coincidentally, they thank Pat Kennedy with NAFI for their family’s relocation to Florida, as Pat invited Brian to speak at the NAFI Annual Conference in Sarasota several years in a row, and they fell in love with the area during those visits.

Brian will be speaking at ISFI 2016, you can get a preview of his presentation here.

How did you get started working with fire investigation/fire investigators?

I worked for a great attorney who handled fire cases for a major insurance carrier. The carrier was a large client of ours and it had its national fire science laboratory 20 minutes from the office. I had full access to all kinds of training and all of their experts, for free. I was fortunate to be able to attend all of their internal training sessions, ultimately obtaining over 1000 hours of fire investigation education through that client. I had full access to everything – an opportunity that most other attorneys would never have.

In my view, fire science litigation is a much more complex and complicated field of law than most insurance-related litigation.  There is a level of scientific understanding that is required far beyond what is needed in “typical” cases.  Many lawyers will tell you they have “handled” fire cases, but what they really have done is “parrot” what their expert witnesses have told them to say.  When I began in the field, I was very uncomfortable with that – with not knowing whether my expert really knew what he or she was talking about.  With the background I have in the field, I can have a substantive conversation with them about the evidence in the case. It becomes a true litigation partnership, which I think is essential.

I enjoy fire litigation because it’s more of a mystery or a puzzle than a regular case. My work starts from the moment of the claim — I get to be involved in solving the mystery from the outset.  Many times I get calls while a fire is still burning, giving me the opportunity to be part of the initial fire scene investigation.

My involvement with NAFI goes back more than a decade.  In the early 2000’s, I began attending NFPA 921 meetings, and I met Pat Kennedy at one of those meetings.  From there, I joined NAFI and, ever since then, I have taught at NAFI’s Annual Conference, and I have taught a few times at ISFI.  Several years ago, NAFI selected me as its General Counsel, and I am very proud to serve the organization in that fashion.

Why is NAFI an important organization for fire investigation?

I think the importance of NAFI is demonstrated through the sheer amount of educational opportunities offered to members and the general public.  There are numerous conferences throughout the year, and the International Symposium on Fire Investigations is offered every other year.  Any time you offer those kinds of high-quality forums to the public, that’s a good thing.  I work with many, many fire investigators – some good, and some not so good.  But the ones that a particularly dangerous are the ones who simply ignore the educational opportunities out there, and fail to keep up with the current state of fire science.  Those folks don’t fare too well in depositions or at trial with me questioning them.  NAFI provides crucial opportunities for people to develop their knowledge base in this very important field.

What is your favorite part of being involved with NAFI?

I really enjoy being part of an organization that is devoted to developing the quality of fire investigations.  Both the programs offered throughout the year and the biennial Symposium really provide opportunities for high-level discussions on fire science issues.  I am able to take what comes out of those events and use them in my practice.

What advice do you have for someone just starting out in your field/specialty with fire investigators?

They have to become educated in the subject matter.  It is not enough to simply repeat or “parrot” what an expert witness tells you, or to robotically ask a pre-set list of questions.  You have to understand the science; if you don’t, you’ll never be able to be an effective fire science litigator.  I recommend that they work with an expert in the field and get onto the scenes and learn. I’ve probably investigated 150 to 200 fire scenes, actually getting my hands dirty and trying to determine the origin and cause of a fire.  It makes a huge difference in understanding what you’re looking at in any given case, and how to approach future cases.

What advice do you have for existing NAFI members or fire investigators?

The learning process never ends.  If you think you can’t learn something or be taught something, you’re a relic of the past. Every day there is a new development, somewhere in our field.  I routinely see experts who think they can’t be taught something.  Then, when they are at a deposition or on the witness stand, they figure out, quite unfortunately, that they were wrong.  There are many tools that NAFI provides to help with training and continuing education.

What is your favorite book?

I’ve always liked the fantasy genre, so I would say The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  My favorite author currently is Steve Berry, who writes great historical mystery fiction.

When you were a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

Interestingly, for a brief period of time as a small child, I wanted to be a priest.  That didn’t last too long, and then I got into history and learning about the Presidents.  So, I decided I wanted to be President, and I learned that most of them had been attorneys, so I needed to be an attorney.  I no longer have any desire to be in politics, but the intention to become an attorney stuck.


Fitting a Square Peg into a Round Hole

Fitting a Square Peg Into a Round Hole – Fire Classification Under NFPA 921

Brian P. Henry and Andrew L. Smith

This article will be presented at ISFI 2016

This article will explore an important, but largely ignored, topic in NFPA 921 – should fire investigator experts classify fires? Does a classification of a fire as incendiary serve a purpose? Why did the NFPA implement authoritative guidelines permitting fire investigators the ability to separate fires into one of four distinctly defined categories? These important questions will be explored in detail below.

To begin, we must first ask ourselves why we investigate fires. As a society, we investigate a fire to find the root cause to prevent the fire from happening again. Public welfare and safety are huge concerns. Fire investigation implicates potential criminal responsibility. Some say the purpose of fire and explosion investigations is much broader than just determining the cause of a fire or explosion incident. The goal of any particular fire investigation is to come to a correct conclusion about the features of a particular fire or explosion incident that resulted in death, injury, damage, or other unwanted outcome.

Download the complete article

NAFI turns 55!

This month is NAFI’s 55th Anniversary. Fifty-five years of providing information, community, and opportunities for learning and certification. Thanks to our exceptional members and the efforts of our staff, we’re the longest running fire investigation organization in the United States.

NAFI was established as a non-profit organization in June of 1961 by a group of fire and explosion investigation professionals who recognized the need for an organization to provide superior technical training and education. Since then, NAFI has developed the most widely held fire and explosion investigation certifications, built an extensive library of training resources, created an international registry and network for fire investigation professionals, and established a reputation for the highest quality training programs. Now with membership on six continents and in 42 countries, NAFI recently established a sister organization (IAFI) designed for the needs of international fire investigators.

Are you interested in igniting your career and joining the ranks of top fire investigators in the world? Become a member with us today.

Fires Involving Air Conditioning Fan Coil Units

Lim Beng Hui, M.Sc(FI)(Dist), B.Eng(Civil)(Hons), CFEI, CFII Singapore Civil Defence Force, Singapore

Yazeed Abdul Rahman, B.Eng(EEE)(Hons), CFEI, CVFI
Singapore Civil Defence Force, Singapore

Soh Seok Yuen, B.Eng(Mech)(Hons)
Singapore Civil Defence Force, Singapore

Presented at International Symposium on Fire Investigation, 2014

Air conditioning is common in Singapore households due to the hot and humid tropical weather all year round. The typical air conditioning found in Singapore homes is the multi-split system which comprises a condensing unit (CU) and a number of wall-mounted fan coil units (FCU). From 2008 to 2013, there were 168 reported multi-split air conditioning fires of which 74 involved the wall-mounted FCU.

Fires involving the wall-mounted FCU are of greater concern than fires involving other parts of the multi split system as they have the propensity to cause significant property damage. There is also a lack of awareness on such fires in some local communities.

This paper details the observations made in a study on fires involving the multi-split air conditioning system in Singapore from 2008 to 2013. The intent of this study is to present investigative evidence that wall-mounted FCU fires can happen. The study also seeks to debunk the myth that wall-mounted FCU fires cannot happen when the FCUs are on standby mode. Additionally, the study will discuss how the burn patterns can possibly mislead investigators and highlights the value in scrutinising fires which are localized to the wall-mounted FCU.

Download the complete paper

Constantinople fire, 1870

A huge section of the city of Constantinople, Turkey, is set ablaze on June 5 in 1870. When the smoke finally cleared, 3,000 homes were destroyed and 900 people were dead.

The fire began at a home in the Armenian section of the Valide Tchesme district. A young girl was carrying a hot piece of charcoal to her family’s kitchen in an iron pan when she tripped, sending the charcoal out the window and onto the roof of an adjacent home. The fire quickly spread down Feridje Street, one of Constantinople’s main thoroughfares.

The Christian area of the city was quickly engulfed. There was a high degree of cooperation among the various ethnic groups who called the city home, but even this was no match for the high winds that drove the rapidly spreading fire. An entire square mile of the city near the Bosporus Strait was devastated. Only stone structures, mostly churches and hospitals, survived the conflagration.

In 1887, Edmondo de Amicis published perhaps the best account of this disaster in a book called Constantinople.


The Anatomy of a Marine Fire Investigation

Christopher J. Reed, CFEI, MIFireE, MSc.Eng (Fire), P.Eng,
Sereca Fire Consulting Ltd., British Columbia, Canada

Presented at International Symposium on Fire Investigation, 2014

Fires occurring in marine environments present the fire investigator with unique challenges. The nature of the marine environment presents an immediate safety hazard and introduces complications in suppression, scene documentation, and evidence contamination. As the scene can sink or become submerged, fire patterns are obscured and evidence can be lost, contaminated, or otherwise dispersed. Because the fire may occur in remote areas, within boathouses or in close proximity to other boats, additional fuel, the environment, and suppression tactics can further limit the investigator’s ability to identify causation factors.

Overall, the general site conditions, construction materials, and the specific electrical and mechanical systems leaves the investigator wading through collapsed structures and sunken vessels, endless piles of burned fiberglass, congealed plastics and melted aluminum, and a disarray of electrical, fuel, and mechanical systems all potentially compromised further by salt water and oxidation not related to the fire. The interpretation of fire patterns is further complicated by specific ventilation effects, fuel loads in different areas of the vessel, and the unusual progression of the fire as it is obstructed or contained by bulkheads in the cabins and hull. The combination of lightweight materials and the influence of venting from open hatches, port lights, or passageways can create fire patterns that could mislead the investigator from the true origin and cause.

This paper examines the process of conducting a marine fire investigation from securing sunken vessels to evaluating common ignition scenarios in vessels and land based associated facilities. Investigation methodologies outlined in NFPA 921 (2014) are reviewed and common failure modes of the various systems are categorized with characteristic fire damage to assist in cause determination.

Download the complete paper

The most deadly lightning strike in history?

On June 26 in 1807, lightning hits a gunpowder factory in the small European country of Luxembourg, killing more than 300 people. Lightning kills approximately 73 people every year in the United States alone, but victims are almost always killed one at a time. The Luxembourg disaster may have been the most deadly lightning strike in history.

The earth experiences 8 to 9 million lightning strikes every single day. In a typical year, the United States will see about 70,000 thunderstorms somewhere in its territory. This produces approximately 20 million lightning strikes annually. A bolt of lightning can reach 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit in instant heat. There are 100 million volts in an average lightning bolt, which can be as much as five miles long.

In 1807, Luxembourg was occupied by Napoleon’s army. The French dictator used the country to stockpile weapons and ammunition. Many underground bunkers were built for this purpose.  In the southern Luxembourg city of Kirchberg, a fortress built in 1732 was used as an armory.

When lightning struck the fortress on June 26, the ammunition housed within ignited on contact, causing a massive explosion. Two entire blocks were completely razed by the blast, which caused several other fires to rage nearby.  The London Times later reported, “This city has been plunged into the greatest consternation and distress.”


The 1875 Liberties Whiskey Fire

One of the most destructive fires in the history of the city occurred on 18 June 1875, when a disastrous fire in the Liberties area of the city saw burning whiskey flow through the streets of the area like lava. A malt house and a bonded warehouse went up in flames, leaving the burning liquid to flow down Ardee Street and Mill Street. The fire began just after 8pm, and contemporary news reports give an idea of just how much burning booze was involved, with the Illustrated London News reporting:

The fire was at Reid’s malt-house and Malone’s bonded warehouse, in the Liberties. The former had above £2000 worth of malt in it, and the latter, which immediately adjoins it, had 1800 puncheons of whisky, the property of various distillers, and worth £54,000.

Read more about The 1875 Liberties Whiskey Fire

Explosion Severity: Propane Versus Natural Gas

Alfonso Ibarreta, Ph.D., PE, CFEI, Timothy Myers, Ph.D., PE, CFEI, CFI, James Bucher, Ph.D., CFEI and Kevin Marr, Ph.D., CFEI Exponent, USA

Presented at International Symposium on Fire Investigation, 2012

Natural gas, composed mainly of methane, is in some ways similar to propane gas. Both fuels have similar energy densities per unit mass, and similar laminar premixed flame burning velocities. However, propane explosions have been shown to produce higher overpressures in unconfined explosion tests when compared to methane. In vapor cloud explosion modeling, methane is considered to be a “low” reactivity fuel, while propane is listed as a “medium” reactivity fuel. In closed vessel explosion testing, the maximum rate of pressure rise for propane is almost twice than that for methane (based on KG  values reported in NFPA 68 (2007) Standard for Explosion Protection by Deflagration Venting , table E.1).

This study provides a direct comparison of the explosion severity between commercial propane and natural gas. Empirical correlations available for vented vessel explosions and unconfined Vapor Cloud Explosions (VCEs) are used to predict the difference in overpressure expected for a commercial propane explosion versus natural gas explosion. Although the maximum laminar burning velocity associated with propane is only about 15% higher than that associated with methane, commercial propane explosions are expected to result in overpressures that are about 40% higher than that of a natural gas explosion under identical conditions with a perfectly-mixed nearstoichiometric fuel-air mixture, based on empirical correlations.

In addition to the laminar burning velocity, other fundamental differences in the fuels may also play an important role in the explosion severity. Propane has a slightly higher expansion ratio than methane when undergoing combustion. The mass diffusivity of propane and methane are also quite different, making the premixed propane flame more prone to wrinkling under turbulent conditions. Future testing in the 20-L explosion chamber is suggested.

Download the complete paper

Meet a NAFI member: Richard Meier

Meet a NAFI member: Richard Meier

Everyone at the National Association of Fire Investigators works hard to make sure our members reach their goals by supporting them with a variety of NFPA based trainings, certifications, and resources. When our members have the relevant education and resources that meet their needs, we’ve succeeded! We are proud of our team and are happy to share more about them with you.

Rich Meier is a Senior Staff Expert, Fire and Explosion Analyst, Lead Investigator with John A. Kennedy & Associates, Inc. He has a BS in Mechanical Engineering Technology from the University of Akron that he earned while working full time, serving in the US Army Reserves and being called to active duty.

Rich lived in Illinois, Ohio and Texas as a child, and ended up in Ohio.  He moved to Florida in 2000 because he had had enough of snow, and loves boating and diving.

How did you get started working in fire investigation?
I first met Pat Kennedy while dating his daughter Christine, now my wife.  When he found out I was both a mechanical engineer and an avid boater, he asked me to consult on a couple of marine cases, one explosion and one fire on an antique yacht.  From there I was hooked.  I studied fire investigation for about 2 years before joining Kennedy and Associates full time.  It is the most interesting thing I’ve ever done and now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Why is NAFI an important organization for fire investigation?
I feel that NAFI puts a lot of emphasis on the basics.  We stress the scientific method because it’s a reliable roadmap to follow when you’re doing your investigation.  Yes, we also teach more complex topics, but we try to make sure you have the fundamentals in place first.  That includes all the requirements of NFPA 1033, in addition to other useful skills.

What is your favorite part of being involved with NAFI?
Meeting and networking with the members.  Through NAFI I know people on almost every continent.  I hear some interesting stories and learn a lot.  After teaching a class someone will come up and say “You know…” or “What about…?”  I’ll go find out and hopefully my class is that much better the next time I teach it.

What advice do you have for fire investigators just starting out?Learn everything you can and never stop asking questions.  Listen to other fire investigators when you’re at a fire scene, but don’t take anything as gospel.  Some really know what they’re doing and some don’t.  When you think you know everything, it’s time to look for another career.

What is a quote you live by?
I have a lot of favorites, so I’m not sure that I can narrow it down to just one.  Here’s two…

“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” – Nido Qubein

“Do something every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt