FC Fire Marshal gives presentation to Forensics class

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station_6Arson leads to over $11 million in damages annually, with over 50% of the suspects convicted being under the age of 20. City of Falls Church Fire Marshal Tom Polera spoke to the forensics classes at Mason on Friday, December 16, about major arson cases and how the job of a fire investigator helps settle disputes by determining the exact cause of a fire.

Oftentimes, when the public fire investigator for the fire department investigates a fire, only a broad investigation is conducted. Polera has been working as a private fire investigator for many years, and he has learned that the cause of a fire might not always be what it appears to be. For example, a burn pattern on the floor under a chair might lead someone to think that that is where the fire started, when it was actually caused by the melting material on the chair.

When the MGM Grand Hotel caught fire in the early 1980’s, citizens demanded better fire safety and prevention such as fire alarms and sprinklers in most public buildings. The Station Night Club fire in Rhode Island killed 100 people in 2003 when a fire broke out during a concert. Deadly fires like this could easily be prevented by meeting standard fire codes.

Usually, the highlight of the fire marshal’s visit is getting to see the arson dog sniff out a small drop of gasoline on a strip of carpet the length of the TLC. Even though the dog was not able to visit this year because it was in training, students were still actively engaged in the discussion and interactive learning about how fires start and the process of determining the cause of them.