USA Vehicle Fire Training

Forensic Services Newsletter

Mr Poon Poh Wong

The subject of our newsletter this month is vehicle fires, with one of our vehicle engineers, Poon Poh Wong, describing training in the USA.

It is not often that one gets to set fire to motor vehicles, but that was the position I found myself in when I attended a vehicle fire investigation course in the USA. In my job as a vehicle engineer at Forensic Services I frequently have to examine burnt vehicles, but I have to admit that there is nothing like watching actual vehicles burn. Some of the features that I saw and photographed have already been of use in appearances as an expert in courts of law.

Chevrolet Saturn set on fire by igniting paper passenger compartment. Photo taken 3 minutes after ignition.
Chevrolet Saturn set on fire by igniting paper passenger compartment. Photo taken 3 minutes after ignition.

There were private investigators, representatives from insurance, law agencies and fire departments who attended this course. The first days were spent in class and some of the topics presented were as follows.

  • Vehicle fire examples.
  • Identifying common and unusual causes of vehicle fires.
  • Inspection of the vehicle and the collection of evidence as related to vehicle fires.
  • Vehicle arson.

The last day of class was spent burning vehicles. Vehicles used were American models that were in operational condition. Four vehicles were set up to burn by the following methods.

  • Introduction of accelerant in the cabin, with the vehicle being allowed to burn itself out. Temperature probes were placed at various locations of the vehicle so that we could see how the temperature varied throughout the various stages of the fires.
  • Introduction of accelerant in the engine compartment. The fire was put out after a short time to preserve the seat of fire.
  • The automatic transmission of a vehicle was operated until it overheated and caused a fire.
  • A vehicle that was being parked in a garage was set on fire to enact a residential fire initiating at a vehicle.

The course has provided valuable direction on vehicle fire investigation and the experience of watching vehicles actually burn compliments our normal involvement days to months after the fire has occurred.


Poon Poh Wong

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