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:
- The igniting object.
- How the igniting object is powered/fuelled.
- The material first ignited.
- The mechanism of how the igniting object ignited the material first ignited.
- 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.