SPRINGFIELD – Arson is a serious crime that causes millions of dollars of property damage and endangers the lives of many firefighters and people in Illinois each year. To help communities fight arson, the Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM) has trained arson investigators throughout the state to assist with fire investigations and, if needed, to bring suspected arsonists to justice.
The state’s arson investigators are in Springfield this week for a half-day firearms training and full-day control and arrest tactics training. The firearms training, which takes place at the Illinois State Police shooting range, involves a simulator with various scenarios that the trainees react to and simulate engaging a threat where they deem it appropriate. The control and arrest tactics training teaches the investigators skills needed to safely apprehend and handcuff suspects. That training is conducted at the Illinois State Police Academy.
“The challenges facing our arson investigators continually change and it’s critical that their skills are current so that they can protect themselves, other responders and the public,” said State Fire Marshal Dave Foreman. “Meth labs and the criminals that run them have increased the dangers facing our investigators and this week’s training will help ensure that they are prepared to handle difficult suspects and dangerous situations.”
The OSFM arson investigators are sworn peace officers authorized to interview witnesses, collect evidence, make arrests and appear in court. They have the authority to carry guns, although they usually work in cooperation with local law enforcement when making arrests.
The 19 OSFM investigators were divided into two groups, with the first group attending training on Monday and Tuesday and the second group training on Wednesday and Thursday. This ensured that requests from local fire and law enforcement officials for
assistance with fire investigations would be covered during the training. OSFM plans to conduct the control and arrest tactics training each year and the firearms training every two years.
Richard Crum, manager of OSFM’s Division of Arson Investigations, noted that this week’s training is just one part of continuing training arson investigators participate in throughout the year. Other training helps investigators hone their skills for determining the cause of fires, particularly those that have been deliberately set. The investigators also keep current on search and seizure laws, since they often must collect and preserve evidence from a fire scene that could later be used in court. The OSFM budget for fiscal year 2007, recently approved by Governor Rod R. Blagojevich, includes $42,000 to continue these arson investigator training efforts.
“Arsonists are becoming increasingly clever in finding ways to disguise how they started the fire,” Crum said. “Our investigators have to keep up with these new methods so that they can help identify arson fires and put arsonists behind bars, where they belong.”
The state’s arson investigators are available 24-hours a day, seven days a week to provide assistance to communities for fire investigations. Requests from local fire departments and law enforcement agencies are received through the 24-hour, toll-free Arson Hotline at (800) 252-2947. Assistance requests are directed to an arson duty investigator, who has the authority to dispatch an arson investigator anywhere in the state anytime, day or night. Arson investigators are located around the state, so response time to any request is usually under three hours.
In 2005, the division investigated 1,293 fires, of which 434 were determined to be incendiary, or deliberately set. These investigations resulted in the arrest of 146 adult and juvenile suspects. OSFM also has six certified accelerant-detecting canines that assist with many investigations each year. In 2005, the canine teams assisted with 293 fire investigations.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, arson is the leading cause of fire in the United States. Each year, an estimated 267,000 fires are attributed to arson, which result in about $1.4 billion in property loss, more than 2,000 injuries and nearly 500 deaths.