Fire is a huge problem for both the Fire Department and Law Enforcement agencies.
Usually fires are started by mistake (such as burning too close to others structures or open burning of dry tender or trash, being careless with fuels or oily rags), mechanical failure (short circuits, overheated motors or faulty heating units) or natural cause (such as lightening)—but sometimes there is another more sinister cause. This is called ARSON. Many fires are intentionally started with the intent of damaging property, defrauding insurance companies, trying to cover up a crime, or worst of all, trying to kill another person or persons.
Because of this, almost all fires are looked at with a critical eye to determine if they are accidental, mechanical, natural or potentially arson. When there appear to be suspicious circumstances, the cause and origin of the fire is investigated. Chief Scruggs is typically the lead investigator on fires in Macon County, and he uses other Fire Department/Law Enforcement trained personnel as needed.
But fire investigation is a complex science and requires extensive training. The International Association of Arson Investigators is the pre-eminent organization worldwide for training and educating fire and arson investigators. The IAAI has 71 chapters in most every state and in over a dozen foreign countries with over 5000 members.
Tennessee has its own IAAI chapter and Chief Keith Scruggs is one of its most senior active members. The IAAI holds its annual training conference each year in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee where a weeklong event involves intense and detail training sessions covering all aspects of fire investigation. And since intentionally set fires are criminal acts, Fire Departments and local Law Enforcement must work together when arson is suspected. Chief Scruggs has been attending this conference for 21 years and has always made sure that other members of the Fire Department and local law enforcement are in attendance to strengthen their fire investigation skills.
This year’s attendees were Don Stevens (LFD firefighter, secretary and fire scene photographer), Todd Wagoner (Deputy Chief, asst. Arson Investigator and Macon County Sheriff’s Deputy), Jason Roberts (Detective with Lafayette Police dept.), Keith Scruggs (LFD Chief and primary Arson Investigator), Tom Dallas (LFD Training Officer, Firefighter/Hazardous Material Technician and Macon County Constable), and Ray Amalfitano (Chief of Lafayette Police Department, LPD firefighter).
They attended classes on Forensic Fire Scene Investigation, Evidence Preservation, Fire Scene Digital Photography, Case Studies of Arson Fires and sessions on Appliance and Mobile Home fires. These classes will help this broad cross section of city and county officers do a better job when called into action in Macon County. And along with the specific knowledge acquired during the training, the opportunity to meet and talk with fire and arson investigators from across Tennessee and the country provides a valuable addition to problem solving skills when investigating fires.
“It is good to know and have other experts to call and discuss details with that might provide us beneficial assistance in our investigations,” said Chief Scruggs.
Chief Amalfitano commented that he found the conference extremely beneficial in expanding his and his Detectives’ knowledge of fire investigation, and that the opportunity to train with other officials in the city and county builds a strong teamwork based platform from which to work in serving and protecting the citizens of Lafayette and Macon County.
Training Officer/Constable Dallas stated that he would be converting some of the material covered in the training into a condensed Arson Awareness training presentation for LPD firefighters and other County officers and employees to help them in the performance of their respective jobs when encountering suspicious fires or possible arson scenes.
All of the attendees stated that they found the conference an excellent experience and that they would be attending future conferences when they are held.