Editorial: Retain the Right Expert for Your Fire Case

A fire occurs with resulting property damage or personal injury.  You are the property insurer, or the company placed on notice that your product or service may have caused the fire.  You need the right expert to investigate the fire’s origin and cause, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of experts to choose from.  Are they all qualified to investigate this fire?  Are they all qualified to investigate all types of fires?

There are large fires, small fires, explosions resulting in fire, industrial fires, residential fires, lawn mower fires, marine fires, and the list goes on.  An expert fully capable and qualified to handle a small kitchen fire may not be qualified to investigate a turbine generated power plant fire, or a motor vehicle fire, or a shipyard fire.  So how do you select the right expert for your fire? 

Prior experience with experts is a good place to start.  But how do you know whether the benefit you receive from that expert’s work is better than the benefit you would have received had you hired a different expert?  The answer is:  you don’t know unless the result is 100% in your favor.   You could fall into the trap of believing that a settlement of a certain percentage is a “good” result, when in reality using a different expert could bring you much better results.  Have you considered getting a second opinion?  It might just be an eye-opening experience to hear from another expert.  A fresh look at the handling of a recurring problem often brings different results.  Perhaps the reviewer has conducted testing of issues affecting your cases that your expert has not done.  The reviewing expert’s experiences and training, being different, could lead to a new way of analyzing an old problem.    

What certifications does your expert have?  At minimum, your fire expert should be certified by either the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) or the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI).  Former members of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosions as well as state and local fire marshals have their own certification processes.  However, having a certification does not in and of itself guarantee that the expert would be the right person for your case.

How do you know if the fire investigator you have chosen has studied the latest developments in fire science? The science of fire investigation has progressed by leaps and bounds over the past fifteen years, so continuing education is a must for all fire investigators.  Not all certifications require the same level of continuing education to recertify, however, and the field of fire investigation is becoming more sophisticated each year.  Your fire investigator must set aside time to keep up with the latest developments.    

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to choosing the most qualified expert for each situation.  Tedford & Pond created a list of experts by region of the country and areas of expertise to help our clients and friends select fire experts.  The list is now available on our web site and will continually be updated.  Although we have not worked with every expert on the list, each has been vetted by us or by a highly qualified third party.  Our goal is not to provide a lengthy compilation of all possible experts, but rather a list of experts who we recommend you consider for your fire case.  We hope our list will help.

— Frederick B. Tedford