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Henry County hosted state arson seminar

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Fire-safety professionals from across the state assembled this week in Henry County, to learn how to determine the causes of different types of blazes, in an effort to deter related crimes.

The Georgia Fire Investigators Association conducted its annual Spring Arson Investigators Seminar Tuesday through Friday. The event was held at the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Office, located at Heritage Park in McDonough.

Charles Mangan, president of the Georgia Fire Investigators Association, which has produced the seminars for the last 40 years, said the program enables those who investigate fires to maintain their qualifications in Georgia.

"We provide training hours to help with ... the 24 hours that fire investigators need each year," said Mangan.

Along with investigators from fire departments in Henry, Clayton and other areas, private agencies had investigators among the 107 attendees at the seminar.

According to Mangan, allowing both groups to interact is often beneficial with regard to fire investigations. "A lot of private fire investigators used to be on the public side," he said. "What this seminar does, is bring both sides together to share ideas to help in investigations."

David Adams, a certified fire investigator through the International Association of Arson Investigators, served as one of several instructors for the event. He said although the seminar's title indicates a focus on arsons, fires of all types were discussed.

"The subject matter covered the utilities' effect on a fire investigation - how downed power lines ... can be hazardous to the investigator and the firefighters," said Adams. "We also talked about the dangers of pressurized gas lines while working at a fire scene."

Adams, a former investigator with the Henry County Fire Department, likened determining the causes of certain fires to putting together pieces of "a very black and charred puzzle." For that reason, he added, the process must be undertaken in a systematic fashion.

"All fire investigations are conducted through a scientific method of collecting data, formulating a hypothesis, testing that hypothesis, and then finding your conclusion," said Adams. "By doing it that way, we never make a misstep that can be avoided. But, the criminals don't play by the same rules as we do, and they're always coming up with new and ingenious ways to ignite and propagate fire."

Henry Fire Marshal Joe Kelley has worked in fire service for 26 years, and was one of five of his agency's investigators who attended the seminar. He said he and his co-workers gained a wealth of knowledge.

"Any time we go to a seminar, my investigators pick up on stuff that they may see out on the field that will help them ..., " Kelley said. He added that some of the information gained through the seminar could prove to be helpful in the agency's ongoing investigation of several recent arson fires in Ellenwood.