Finding the Cause: VFD opens fire investigation sessions

May 19—VALDOSTA — The Valdosta Fire Department kicked off the first of several planned fire investigation symposiums throughout South Georgia last week.

The symposium aims to provide one of many training and networking opportunities for agencies in fire investigations throughout the state.

Participants were placed in groups with different scenarios to conduct a mock investigation of a residential structure fire, then present their findings to their peers.

Valdosta Fire Chief Brian Boutwell said area fire agencies need to come together to better serve local communities.

"We've always had a vision of having an arson task force, which makes sense, right? What if one of us had a big box? ... But we have a big fire. Do any of us have the immediate local resources to really work that fire? and I'm gonna tell you, I don't. I got some good good folks, but for those scenarios, we need all hands on deck," he said.

Lt. Dereck Willis of the fire prevention division presented two structure fire scenarios at the morning briefing with firefighters gathering at the site to begin the mock investigation, determining the cause and origin of each fire.

Personnel returned to the Lowndes County Emergency Operations Center after on-scene investigations to discuss their theories. Willis and Boutwell showed video footage of each situation, demonstrating how each fire started.

The first scenario was a fire caused by having combustible objects too close to a heat source. Scenario two was set aflame by an incendiary weapon. Both fire personnel groups' hypotheses were correct.

Accelerant-detection K-9s from the State Fire Marshal's office were on hand and exhibited their abilities to detect accelerants with 100% accuracy.

Willis said these training events allow professionals in the field to network, train and practice strategies for awareness and investigations, as well as establish relationships with other fire departments.