Hertfordshire FRS’s Fire Investigation Team has had significant success in recent years when it comes to investigating and identifying the cause and origin of fires thanks to the dedicated work work of their fourteen officers and one fire investigation dog.
For all the officers, fire investigation is an add-on to their day jobs, but they are a fully committed and highly competent team who will go to extraordinary lengths to get to the cause and origin of a fire. As well as identifying the cause of fire, the team put every effort into identifying evidence in order to secure convictions and custodial sentences for the arsonists responsible.
Working in conjunction with Herts Police an average detection rate of 11.79% was achieved for arson during 2012-13. When comparing this rate to neighbouring counties Hertfordshire has the highest detection rate, and when compared against counties similar to Hertfordshire in demographics and size only one county has a slight improvement.
The role of CC, the fire investigation dog over the last five years and one of only 17 in the country, is significant. Trained to detect twelve different types of ignitable liquid, he can trace the source rapidly, saving the investigation team hours of painstaking work. He and his handler, Watch Commander Nikki Harvey, are on call throughout the eastern region to attend and investigate fire scenes. It takes approximately a year of intensive training to prepare and ready a fire investigation dog. As CC is now seven years old, a new fire investigation dog Reqs replaced CC when he retired earlier this year.
Watch our video of Reqs showing his fire investigation skills along with interviews from CFO Roy Wilsher and Nikki Harvey:
At incidents in recent years, the fire investigation dog has been able to locate traces of ignitable liquids; the resulting samples, taken by Police Scenes of Crimes Officers have provided supporting evidence that the fires had been started deliberately. The continued liaison between HFRS and Hertfordshire Constabulary has ultimately led to the successful prosecution and conviction of the perpetrator(s) on a number of occasions.
A fire at a large DIY/tool shop in Bushey caused millions of pounds worth of damage. The fire investigation team found evidence that it was set deliberately using an ignitable liquid. Three people were arrested over the fire and subsequently charged and found guilty of arson and conspiracy to commit arson, sentences ranged between 30 months and 4 years for the three individuals.
A serious fire at a school in St Albans resulted in high financial loss. The fire investigation team identified that the fire had been started deliberately and two youths were subsequently arrested and charged with committing arson recklessly. Due to their age, they were given a twelve month detention and training order.
A fire was started deliberately on a canal barge in Hemel Hempstead with one person inside who was subsequently rescued by fire crews upon their arrival. Examination of the fire debris at the scene confirmed the presence of ignitable liquids and a petrol container was located. A subsequent police investigation recovered CCTV footage showing a suspect purchasing petrol from a garage. One person was subsequently arrested, charged and convicted of the most serious charge of arson with intent to endanger life. The individual was sentenced to nine years imprisonment to include a sentence extension of five years.
Following various deliberate fires within the South Oxhey area, one person was arrested and convicted of arson later in the year. A custodial sentence of three years was given to the offender.
In February 2012, a fire was started in a flat in Berkhamsted causing severe damage and endangering the lives of others within the block of flats. One person was found guilty of arson and convicted to two years imprisonment.
Richard Thake, Hertfordshire County Council's Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Planning concluded: "The work that Reqs does is critical in assisting the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service team and it plays an integral part in community fire safety. Reqs is exceptionally valuable and receives the same high degree of training that we afford all frontline fire personnel."