Due to legal and procedural requirements, some of the initial considerations that should be made by the lead investigator prior to conducting the physical inspection of the fire scene is first notifying appropriate authorities. This may include the local police department, coroner’s office, medical examiner and the forensic lab. Failing to address this important step may cause unnecessary delays in the investigation, friction between agencies and possible legal ramifications in the future.
Responsibility of the Fire Suppression Crews
During firefighting operations, valuable evidence can often be disturbed or destroyed. When possible, it should be brought to the attention of the suppression division that fire streams may compromise the position of the body and/or condition of evidence that may be of value to the investigation.
This would include the premature removal of a victim that is beyond medical aid. Although operations may be hindered, careful consideration should be made by the incident commander prior to directing the removal of a body before proper documentation can be made.
Every effort should be made to insure that the victim is protected during firefighting operations, salvage and overhaul. Foot traffic, careless handling of hose lines and removal of fire debris during salvage and overhaul can compromise any fire scene. In fires where it was believed that a victim was inside of the burning structure and the initial search did not reveal the presence of a victim, the above careless activity may significantly reduce the possibility of confirming the presence of a victim.
When safe to do so, the premature removal of a victim may be directed when the likelihood of structural collapse is eminent.