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Henry hosts statewide fire seminar

By Johnny Jackson

Firefighters from around Georgia are converging in Henry County.

This week, more than 100 fire investigation professionals from 45 different agencies are taking part in the 2010 Georgia Fire Investigator's Association (GFIA) Spring Seminar.

The "Henry County Fire Department is honored to have been chosen to host the 2010 Spring Arson Seminar and we look forward to working with the Georgia Fire Investigator's Association in the future," said Henry County Fire Capt. Sabrina Puckett.

The four-day training session, held this year at the Jason T. Harper Event Center at Heritage Park in McDonough, ends today. The location was also the chosen training site in 2009, and will be the host in 2011, said GFIA President Doug Byron, who is also an independent forensic chemist in Lawrenceville.

"It fits our requirements, and it's centrally located," said Byron.

The annual training brings together fire investigation professionals from all corners of the state, he said. It is a continuing education course for firefighters, fire marshals and insurance agents, to help them stay abreast of fire investigation procedure.

Byron said fire investigations can be involved processes, lasting only two hours, or many years, depending on the complexities of the particular fire inquiry. "The fire investigation starts with the 911 call," Byron added.

He said some investigations may not end until years later in court, in matters where law enforcement is involved.

The independent, forensic chemist said seminar participants have heard lectures from those considered to be experts in their field all week. They were schooled, Thursday, on the legal procedures surrounding investigations, and how to incorporate digital technology in fire-scene analysis.

Attendees take part in case scenarios -- walking, step by step, through the investigative process of an arson or accidental fire. They also learn about new developments in fire investigations, like looking for potentially hazardous conditions or investigating the failure of new household products.

On Wednesday, fire investigators learned how to recognize whether corrugated, stainless steel tubing was the cause of a fire due to lightning.

"After 10 years of use, we're starting to see the unanticipated consequences of new and innovative products," Byron said. "It helps the citizens to know that the fire investigation training is constantly being updated with new technology, and fire investigators can use the training to come to a certain degree of scientific certainty as to the origin and cause of a fire."

Riverdale Fire Marshal Demetries Wells said he believes calls about accidental fires are declining within the Riverdale city limits. He said calls average about 2,200 per year within the city's jurisdiction, and that lately, most have been medical-related emergencies.

"I learn a lot by coming to these seminars," said Wells, a fire investigator and 14-year veteran firefighter. "It gives me a chance to take different ideas back to my department."

Wells said his department is able to save lives through such seminars, because he can take what he has learned from other professionals and disseminate that information back into the community. "My job, first, is to educate the citizens about safety," he said.