New Fire Investigation protocol

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Fire investigation protocol sees three organisations commit to sharing specialist skills and resources to better protect the public


Scotland will be better protected from those who deliberately set fires thanks to a historic agreement between the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Police Scotland and Scottish Police Authority (SPA) Forensic Services.

A new fire investigation protocol – signed by Chief Officer Alasdair Hay, Chief Constable Sir Stephen House and SPA Forensic Services Director Tom Nelson – commits all three organisations to sharing their specialist skills and expertise when responding to incidents.

The agreement covers how first responders approach incidents from the outset, aiming to preserve evidence to help ensure those responsible for wilful fireraising are brought to justice.

Chief Officer Hay said: “The new fire investigation protocol will protect every community in Scotland and those responsible for deliberately setting fires should note how determined we are to prevent them endangering people and damaging property.

“Fire is incredibly unpredictable and is completely beyond the control of those who start it. People who set fires deliberately are endangering lives by their reckless, criminal actions.

“Each year Scotland’s firefighters attend around 20,000 deliberately set fires, which shows the importance of our expert officers working to identify the causes of fires and supporting the police with evidence to track down those responsible.

“The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is entirely focused on protecting our communities and we investigate every fire our crews attend.

“In the case of fatal fires or where someone has been seriously injured by fire or there is suspected criminality we have specialist fire investigation units based in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen which can be mobilised to the scene of any such incident from the Scottish Borders to Shetland.

“Firefighters working alongside police officers will conduct thorough physical on-scene examinations alongside forensic staff, which helps identify the cause and origin of fires.

“This leads to a fuller understanding of potential hazards and unusual features or contributory factors that affect fire safety, allowing us to inform occupiers and builders of issues and potentially prevent further incidents.

“Understanding the causes of fatal fires and fires where people have suffered injuries is also crucial to how we deliver our services, ensuring we do everything possible to reduce the risks to the public from fire. This may be highlighting known causes of fire such as cigarettes or cooking hazards as well as promoting valuable fire safety prevention messages.

“This new agreement builds on the already strong partnership between our services and shows our commitment to saving lives and driving down the number of deliberate set fires.”

In seeking to preserve the scene for investigators, firefighters approach all incidents mindful they are operating at a possible crime scene.

Incident commanders routinely consult with senior police officers during operations and can mobilise specialist fire investigation officers where appropriate, with thorough physical fire-scene examinations often conducted alongside forensic staff. 

By jointly investigating fires, the three services aim to reduce the number of incidents and the deaths, injuries and trauma resulting from them. 

The protocol means those responsible for deliberately starting fires are more likely than ever to be traced and brought before the courts.

Chief Constable Sir Stephen House commented: “The focus of Police Scotland is to keep people safe and our services share the same objectives in protecting people from harm. We will work with our partners in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and SPA Forensic Services to do all we can to make sure that investigations are carried out to consistently high standards and the best evidence is secured to help place those responsible for causing fires before the courts.

“Wilful fireraising can cause damage to property and terrible loss of life. The impact of such crimes can be devastating. This protocol will help shape a modern and effective response to wilful fireraising which can be held up as an example of excellent joint working.”

Tom Nelson, Director of SPA Forensic Services, said:  “As Forensic science advances we can get meaningful information from smaller and smaller samples.  However, protecting the integrity of the crime scene is vital in giving us a complete understanding of how the fire started and who was responsible. Once the evidence is secured the forensic science team can utilise their entire forensic toolbox to ensure the best samples are recovered for scientific analysis which is crucial in bringing the perpetrator to justice. I am delighted to join with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Police Scotland to sign this protocol which will provide consistency for all fire-scene examinations across Scotland.”

The new protocol means those responsible for deliberately starting fires are more likely than ever to be traced and brought before the courts, something the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is clear can help prevent a tragedy.

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Assistant Chief Officer Lewis Ramsay, the director of prevention and protection for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, explained: “We are determined to continue to make every community in Scotland safer and by identifying those responsible for deliberate fires we will save lives.

“Deliberate fire setting endangers the lives of firefighters, our fellow emergency responders and members of the public. No-one should ever accept it.

“The partnership between fire and rescue personnel, police and forensics officers is a key tool in our shared mission to protect communities and this new protocol is a clear sign of our intent to drive down the number of deliberate fires.”

Anyone with information about deliberate fire setting should contact Police Scotland on the non-emergency number 101.

Alternatively, crimes can be reported anonymously to the independent charity Crimestoppers by calling 0800 555 111.