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Fire Investigation

Investigating fires in Saskatchewan involves determining the origin, cause and circumstances of the fire using the authority provided under The Fire Prevention Act, 1992.

In Saskatchewan, every fire must be reported. Every fire department must call the Fire Incident Reporting Line at 1-800-739-3473 (FIRE) to report any fires they have responded to. The line is answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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1. Fire Investigation Guidelines

In Saskatchewan, fire loss investigations are conducted under the authority of The Fire Prevention Act, 1992 . This Act is the only legislation addressing the specific duty of fire investigation and assigning it to a fire authority such as the Local Assistant and/or the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA).

Fire investigations under the Act are an administrative rather than judicial function. The SPSA responds in order to help Local Assistants with an investigation or because the fire holds specific interest due to the nature of the loss.

During a fire investigation, the origin, cause and circumstances of the loss are identified and reported by submitting a Fire Incident Report for statistical use.

Provincial interest in these statistics focuses on programs related to fire loss prevention. Complete and accurate data helps the SPSA evaluate the effectiveness of existing programs and identify the need for new programs. Fire Incident Reports and statistics are used to:

  • develop prevention programs such as Risk Watch and Learn Not to Burn;
  • plan training programs for fire fighters;
  • identify necessary improvements to fire safety regulations; and
  • help identify and plan municipal assistance programs.

A number of other agencies (such as Health Canada's Consumer Product Safety Branch) with interests in public safety also rely on statistics provided by SPSA. Complete and accurate statistics are essential for these agencies to effectively evaluate, revise and manage their programs.

During an investigation, the Local Assistant and/or SPSA fulfil their responsibility to determine the origin, cause and circumstances of the fire which is commonly referred to as "Determining O C & C."

Origin – the exact or general location where the fire started.

Cause – the description of the fire ignition sequence by identifying up to five pieces of critical information:

  1. The igniting object.
  2. How the igniting object is powered/fuelled.
  3. The material first ignited.
  4. The mechanism of how the igniting object ignited the material first ignited.
  5. The act or omission that resulted in the fire.

Circumstances – normally consist of information detailing the sequence of events leading to the five items identified in "Cause" resulting in a fire.

A Local Assistant or SPSA investigator should start an investigation within the three-day requirement (excluding Sunday) of the Act. If this does not occur, entry to property must be under an authority other than the Act such as applying for a warrant or getting permission from the owner. Under these circumstances the person or agency requesting a response from the Local Assistant or SPSA must demonstrate they have the authority to enter.

Local Assistants and SPSA staff have broad powers for the purpose of conducting investigations, including:

  • the authority to enter a property where a fire has occurred;
  • the authority to restrict others from entering the fire scene;
  • the right to examine and to take items from the fire scene; and
  • the authority to take persons or equipment onto a fire scene.

Case law also identifies that a closure order under the Act to restrict the property owner from the property must also restrict all other private persons from the scene.

Persons entering a fire scene under the authority of the Act are required to comply with Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) regulations. Persons investigating a fire must be equipped with adequate safety clothing and equipment and be adequately trained in order to ensure their safety.

The term "suspicious" is not a valid description for the purpose of fire reporting. Suspicion also plays no part in an investigation beyond alerting investigators to take additional precautions to preserve the validity and integrity of both the fire scene and the investigation. A normal precaution taken for "suspicious" fires is to restrict entry to the property and immediately involve the police.

A fire death is always reported to the police, if they are not already on-scene. The progress of an investigation is not delayed waiting for police to arrive as long as no other immediate reasons to delay the investigation are evident. Under legislative precedence the only reason to delay a SPSA investigation is if a higher priority investigation (i.e. under the Criminal Code) must clearly take place first.

The Act does identify that "evidence" may be taken but this is not specifically for the purposes of identifying criminal activity such as arson or fraud. Evidence may be taken for "testing" related to the fire cause or to identify product failure as described in the Act. Evidence for criminal activity may only be taken by a police officer under the rules and procedures established in the Criminal Code.

Once the fire investigation is concluded, the release of information is part of the mandate of the SPSA. The information is limited to those areas specified in the Act meaning the origin, cause and circumstances of a fire. Other information held by or reported to SPSA, is not released.

If you require a blank fire investigation form or need assistance filling out the form, contact the SPSA.

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2. SPSA's Roles and Responsibilities in a Fire Investigation

SPSA conducts fire investigations within its mandate and identified roles and responsibilities by:

  • collecting, recording and disseminating statistical information on fire losses with a particular interest when:
    • injury or death has occurred;
    • suspicious or criminal evidence is found;
    • government buildings or properties are involved;
    • a large loss fire has occurred.
  • providing assistance, advisory and consulting services to local assistants.
  • providing for the training of local assistants.
  • supporting a more independent local fire services delivery structure.

When the SPSA determines that there are circumstances that may be of interest to other agencies (arson, fraud, product liability, etc.), staff immediately notify the responsible agencies and follow procedures to protect the integrity of the investigation to ensure that it is not compromised.

While SPSA has no mandate to identify responsibility, motive or opportunity in relation to a fire, it can be called upon to provide advice or assistance in these matters by agencies whose job it is to identify these aspects.

If the scene is compromised or the SPSA's confidence in completing a valid investigation is low, the Agency will not usually respond. Attempting to "re-investigate" a fire loss – particularly after other agencies have already disturbed the scene and interview those involved – is rarely successful.

The SPSA may also restrict persons from entering a fire scene for a number of different reasons. SPSA staff will not condone unsafe activities on a fire scene and are obligated to report infractions of provincial regulations to the proper authority.

Once the origin and cause of a fire is determined EMFS no longer has any authority under the Act for the investigation to continue. If an Investigator as described under the Act, determines the origin, cause and circumstance, EMFS can still assist other agencies conduct their investigation but it cannot do so under the authority of the Act.

The only time the SPSA will provide an internal report to another agency is where it is necessary to support an investigation by that agency (i.e. to the RCMP).

Police, insurance representatives or other agencies needing assistance may contact the SPSA at any time during an investigation by calling 1-800-739-3473.

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3. Team Members and Principles

Fire loss investigations under the authority of the Act are conducted in a way that supports the investigation work of other interested agencies, such as insurance agencies and the police. Normally information is available to other interested agencies to help them complete their investigations.

The system known as the team concept is designed to enable different agencies involved in an investigation to come to an agreement regarding the origin and cause of a fire.

The SPSA promotes and supports the principals of the team concept when conducting investigations. The team concept recognizes there may be a need for an increasing number of agencies to become involved in a fire investigation (as circumstances dictate).

Implementing team concept principles provides all agencies involved in a fire loss investigation with a number of substantial benefits, such as:

  • access to expertise from other agencies;
  • being able to efficiently and effectively investigate any fire; and
  • the ability to conduct investigations under difficult or challenging conditions.

Success relies on every participating agency believing in, committing to and following through with the principles of the team concept.

The authority for fire investigation in a jurisdiction is free to follow any system of investigation management that participating agencies feel meet their needs.

Team Members

The declared interest each agency has in the investigation dictates when a team should be formed and which agencies should be members. This could involve:

  • Local Assistants
    Local Assistants are responsible to investigate or cause to be investigated the cause, origin and circumstance of every fire occurring within their jurisdiction.
  • SPSA
    SPSA Investigators support Local Assistants with their investigations if/when fires fall under the mandate in the Act and/or hold a special interest.
  • Police
    Police can be on scene for any fire investigation, but are not usually requested unless a death or suspicion of a criminal activity is identified. Once a criminal investigation has started, police take the lead role. Police often request assistance from SPSA Investigators.
  • Coroner
    If there is a fire fatality, the Coroner needs to be notified.
  • Occupational Health & Safety
    If a fire resulted in a workplace injury or fatality, an OH&S representative must be notified.
  • Gas or Electrical Safety
    Gas or electrical safety personnel are sometimes requested as team members but should only be called when absolutely necessary, as their resources are limited.
  • Insurance
    Typically the owner will contact their insurance representative directly. They are welcome on-scene unless there is some reason they are not permitted, e.g. when a closure order has been issued. This protects the SPSA from any charge or challenge concerning the validity of an investigation. An insurance representative who is excluded because of a closure order will have the situation explained to them and they will still form a part of the investigation team, just not on the fire scene.

Insurance, police or other agencies may expand the team at any time. Police identification technicians, independent insurance investigators and representatives of Saskatchewan Occupational Health and Safety are just a few examples of the outside expertise which might be called on.

Principles of the Team Concept

Principle 1 – Everyone does his/her own job
This principle recognizes each agency involved in a fire investigation has a specific interest and specific expertise. Each team member contributes from his/her area of expertise and recognizes the contributions of other team members. These co-operative efforts come together to form a complete "picture" of the investigation that benefits the entire team. The principle is clear; no one individual can "do it all" and a team approach is the best and most productive method for fire investigation.

Principle 2 – Everyone supports everyone else so everyone can do his/her job
This principle is basic to any activity involving a team. It means support is given by and to every team member or potential team member, in every aspect of the investigation. This principle supports the first principle of the team concept. It identifies that each team member not only brings specific expertise to the investigation but also that each team member has specific interests in the fire investigation and that these diverse interests must be served.

Principle 3 – Everyone shares
The principle of sharing is primarily related to information regarding a fire loss and the resources necessary to advance fire investigation training. At a fire scene, SPSA Investigators provide information they have gained from their investigation with all other investigation agency personnel present at the scene. This information is usually shared verbally as each agency is on-site conducting their aspect of the investigation.

Principle 4 – Everyone agrees
The primary purpose of the team concept is to assist all agencies involved in a fire investigation to reach the same conclusion about the fire. Each agency is entitled to their opinion and to substantiate that opinion. Where agreement is not possible the agencies are free to "agree to disagree." This is a valid conclusion under the principles of the team concept. Any person who does not agree with the SPSA Investigator's conclusion is free to do so and is welcome to present an opinion for consideration.

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