Development and validation of accelerant recovery techniques at fire scenes

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2005
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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. Access is restricted indefinitely. ----- Incendiary and suspicious fires rank as among the top causes of all fires attended by fire services across Australia. Often, a lack of evidence in arson cases makes police investigations difficult. Arsonists frequently use accelerants to help initiate or spread a fire. Liquid accelerant residues can be detected and identified after a fire using chemical analysis. For detection and identification to occur, samples must be collected at the fire scene then sent to the laboratory for analysis. This work investigates on-site detection methods, with the aim of improving the overall outcome of the chemical analysis process. There is a large number of instruments that are marketed for use as ‘accelerant’ detectors. These primary on-site detection methods are aimed at providing the investigator with a guide for determining which samples, if any, should be sent to the laboratory for chemical analysis. This study establishes the advantages and disadvantages of a detector tube system, a photoionisation detector and an accelerant detection canine. The capabilities of these methods, such as sensitivity and selectivity are examined. In addition, the why in which these methods should be applied to fire investigations, particularly in relation to Australia, is discussed. As technology evolves the idea of bringing the laboratory to the scene may soon be a reality. The HAPSITE, a portable gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GCMS), is investigated in this study for use as a secondary on-site detection method for accelerant detection at fire scenes. Through the development of a method for accelerant detection, the suitability of the HAPSITE for field use is examined. The role that an instrument, such as the HAPSITE could play in fire investigations is also evaluated. The study established that the accelerant detection canine was by far the most competent screening tool for detecting accelerants. The detector tube system and portable photoionisation detector proved insufficient as accelerant screening methods. The costs associated with canine detection teams are considerable, compared with the other methods evaluated in this study; however, in relation to the cost of arson to society these costs are minimal. The benefits of an accelerant detection canine team are numerous when used in an appropriate manner. In its current state the HAPSITE system was considered unsuitable for use as a secondary on-site accelerant detector. Nonetheless, some of the features of the HAPSITE were appropriate for accelerant detection and identification. Thus the examination of the HAPSITE did highlight the potential use of a similar system for use in the chemical analysis process.
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