Did Nero play the fiddle while Rome burned?

AD 64, Jul 18th:  Nero’s Rome burns

The great fire of Rome breaks out and destroys much of the city on this day in the year 64.  Despite the well-known stories, there is no evidence that the Roman emperor, Nero, either started the fire or played the fiddle while it burned.  Still, he did use the disaster to further his political agenda.

The fire began in the slums of a district south of the legendary Palatine Hill.  The area’s homes burned very quickly and the fire spread north, fueled by high winds.  During the chaos of the fire, there were reports of heavy looting.  The fire ended up raging out of control for nearly three days.  Three of Rome’s 14 districts were completely wiped out; only four were untouched by the tremendous conflagration.  Hundreds of people died in the fire and many thousands were left homeless.

Although popular legend holds that Emperor Nero fiddled while the city burned, this account is wrong on several accounts.  First, the fiddle did not even exist at the time. Instead, Nero was well known for his talent on the lyre; he often composed his own music.  More importantly, Nero was actually 35 miles away in Antium when the fire broke out.  In fact, he let his palace be used as a shelter.

Legend has long blamed Nero for a couple of reasons.  Nero did not like the aesthetics of the city and used the devastation of the fire in order to change much of it and institute new building codes throughout the city.  Nero also used the fire to clamp down on the growing influence of Christians in Rome.  He arrested, tortured and executed hundreds of Christians on the pretext that they had something to do with the fire.

Source: History.com 

Chicago Fire of 1874

The Chicago Fire of 1874 was a conflagration in Chicago, Illinois, that took place on July 14, 1874. Reports of the extent of the damage vary somewhat, but sources generally agree that the fire burned forty-seven acres just south of the Loop, destroyed 812 structures and killed 20 people. The affected neighborhood had been home to Chicago’s community of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland, as well as to a significant population of middle-class African-American families; both ethnic groups were displaced in the aftermath of the fire to other neighborhoods on the city’s West and South Sides.

The fire insurance industry’s National Board of Underwriters responded to the fire by demanding widespread changes in Chicago’s fire prevention and firefighting efforts, and ultimately encouraged fire insurers to cancel all coverage of buildings in the city in October. Many insurers did halt their activities in Chicago, and only returned to issuing policies in the city after the municipal government adopted many of the suggested reforms.

Source: Wikipedia

Be safe this 4th of July

The National Fire Protection Association estimates that fireworks cause an average of 20,000 reported fires every year.

During 2007-2011, 91% of the average of 19,700 fires associated with fireworks per year occurred outside any structure or vehicle. The largest numbers of these outdoor fires associated with fireworks involved grass fires (6,800 per year), brush fires (4,500), dumpster fires (1,700), unclassified or unknown-type natural or vegetation fires (1,300) and other outside trash, rubbish, or waste fires (1,200).

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that in 2014, about 10,500 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with fireworks. Sixty-seven percent of these estimated injuries occurred in a one-month special study period (June 20, 2014 – July 20, 2014) around July 4. During the 2014 special study, more than half of the fireworks related injuries were burns. Most of the injuries involved hands and fingers, the head (including face, eyes, and ears), legs and arms. Children under the age of 15 years old accounted for 35 percent of the estimated injuries.

In 2007-2011, four people per year were killed in fires started by fireworks, while data from death certificates show that five people per year were killed directly by fireworks. These estimates may overlap, because fireworks can directly kill someone while also starting a fatal fire.

On Independence Day in a typical year, fireworks account for two out of five of all reported fires, more than any other cause of fire.

Clearly, the hazards associated with the use of fireworks by other than professionals are many and should cause responsible parents to seek safer ways to celebrate the 4th of July.

Source: SafeJuly4th.org

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.


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

Investigative Bias Involving Smoke Alarms in Fatal Fires

Investigative Bias Involving Smoke Alarms in Fatal Fires
Joseph M. Fleming, Deputy Chief
Vyto Babrauskas, Ph.D.

Presented at International Symposium of Fire Investigation, 2014

During the investigation of most fires, including fatal fires, the  investigators focus almost all of their attention to the questions of cause and origin. This has been the traditional purpose of fire investigation. Because of this, the type of smoke detector involved, i.e. ionization or photoelectric, is seldom a factor that is considered important. In fact, in some cases little effort is made to determine if a smoke detector was even present. Complicating the investigation of this aspect of the fire is the fact that quite often the ceilings have been pulled down, along with the remains of the detector in an effort to extinguish the fire. The smoke detector, at least what is left of it, is buried in debris and difficult to recognize. In addition, the different factors that can affect a smoke detector’s ability to detect a fire in time to alert the occupants are not well understood. As a consequence, investigators are not aware of any reason to investigate the operation of the smoke detector.

In this paper we show why investigating aspects of smoke detector performance may be important, if not to address the cause and origin of the fire, at least to understand better the cause of injuries and fatalities. In doing this we endeavor to answer some questions that some investigators have had as to why some detectors may not have gone off in time to alert the occupants. In many cases investigators improperly assume that if the occupant did not escape, then this means that the smoke alarm did not operate. We also discuss the national statistic regarding smoke alarms and how the failure to collect relevant information may be leading to incomplete and misleading data analysis. Since Massachusetts started to collect this information and apply lessons learned to public education and code improvements, the fire death rate per capita has dropped much faster in Massachusetts, than in the US as a whole. While there may be many reasons for this, we are confident that better collection of data involving smoke alarms is a major factor.

Download the complete paper

Survey – Thank you.

Thank you for completing the 2016 NAFI Member Survey.

We will enter you in the drawing for one of three NAFI color Block Polo Shirts from the NAFI Store.

While we have you here, did you know…

Registration is open for our newest course.

1033 & 921 – Putting it Together, July 18-21 in Tampa, Florida.

The Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigators, NFPA 1033, mandates that an investigator have up-to-date training in 16 areas. This International Advanced Fire, Arson and Explosion Training Program hits all 16 and how they relate to NFPA 921. Learn more…


ISFI216 – International Symposium on Fire Investigation Science & Technology

the deadline to submit abstracts to ISFI 2016 has been extended to May 2, 2016.  Check out the conference website here.

Both of these programs completely fulfill the NAFI-CFEI recertification requirements.

Welcome Fire & Explosion Investigators!

Welcome to NAFI’s new blog.

We are excited to bring you research, education and association news on this new blog.  You will see a little bit of everything on this blog.

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