News: Marine Corps police cross-train with base fire department in arson investigation
BARSTOW, Calif. - The Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow fire department is cross-training a Criminal Investigation Division agent in arson investigation in a program unique to Marine Corps Installations West.
“Marine Corps Order (P11000.11) requires that any arson investigation be turned over to the CID,” said Gabriel Hammett, the fire prevention officer and fire investigator for MCLB Barstow, “and that’s where the idea came up to get CID trained in arson investigation so that they have a better understanding of it.”
For the past year CID Agent Jeffrey B. Swearingen with the base police department, has been training in major aspects of arson investigation and firefighting.
“Investigating arson is like investigating any crime as far as procedure is concerned, but there are some aspects of arson that are unique, and that’s where this training comes in,” Swearingen said.
There are subtleties to arson investigation that require careful study.
“It’s not like you have a bunch of Molotov cocktails lying around,” he said. “It could be something as simple as an employee sticking paper in something to cause a fire so they can get out of work for the day.”
The arson training program is presenting its own specific challenges for the agent.
“The course on arson investigation is difficult for me because I had no prior experience in the field,” Swearingen said. “I relied on the fire department for a lot of the experience I lacked.”
Swearingen needs the certifications required by the Office of the State Fire Marshal to become an arson investigator.
“To get Level 1 certification as an arson investigator I need about 100 point-of-origin determinations and to get Level 2 it’s about 150,” he said. “I have about 20 so far.”
Accompanying base firefighters to actual blazes is one source of the point-of-origin determinations the Hesperia, Calif., native needs, but there is also a burn “lab.”
“We’ve had live fire burns where they started about seven or eight fires down at the Ben Clark (Public Safety) Training Center in Riverside, Calif.,” Swearingen said.
Hammett thinks the cross-training is critical to develop effective relationships between the MCLB Arson Task Force and the San Bernardino County Arson Task Force, where cross-training is established procedure.
“Swearingen has been accepted into the San Bernardino County Arson Task Force, which includes agents from the (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and investigators throughout the entire county, both fire and law enforcement,” Hammett said.
During a May 9 training session, Hammett enlisted the help of SCBA trainer Firefighter Ryan Hanify to instruct Swearingen in the use of the self-contained breathing apparatus.
“That SCBA is the air tank firefighters use,” Hammett said. “The SCBA and mask can create a claustrophobic environment and this training will help build Swearingen’s confidence and familiarization while utilizing the air pack in an immediately dangerous to life or health environment.”
Swearingen said the SCBA training was similar to the gas mask training he and other police officers had to take.
“We use the SCBA when you’re an arson investigator to protect yourself from any type of hazardous material that may be in the area after the fire,” he said.
At some point, Swearingen will don the full firefighting gear and go in to the burn tower aboard base, Hammett indicated.
“It’s a vital training area that exposes Agent Swearingen to basic firefighting tactics so he’ll have a better understanding of what goes on during and after a fire,” Hammett said.
Agent Robert Cline with the Marine Base Camp Pendleton CID office, where Marine Corps Installations West is located, said the cross-training in arson is unique among the seven bases overseen by MCI West.
“We here and at every other office I’ve been at rely on the fire department and their arson investigators,” Cline said. “Arson is not a typical training for CID agents, not even in advanced training.”
If the training proves successful, then the program could be expanded to other bases, Hammett said.
“Any other detectives or investigators in the MCPD will eventually be brought on board and involved in the arson training as well,” he concluded.
Date Posted:05.30.2012 18:34
Location:BARSTOW, CA, US
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