TODAY'S TMJ4 goes inside elite arson investigator training
Photo: Video by tmj4.com
WAUKESHA – It happens time and time again right here in southeast Wisconsin. Intentionally set fires destroying homes and businesses, putting firefighters in danger and neighborhoods at risk.
TODAY’S TMJ4’s cameras were invited for an exclusive look at an elite training program for arson investigators. Instructors carefully, deliberately set multiple fires in an old Hartford farmhouse before students arrived, turning it into a hands-on classroom.
"It's a two-week, National Fire Academy course, a very prestigious course,” said Brian Dorow, Dean of Criminal Justice at Waukesha County Technical College. “What we're setting is seven different crime scenes. The students come through during the course. They have to determine the motive, the origin."
This is all done under the careful supervision of the Hartford Fire and Rescue Department. Chief Paul Stephens had a message for those who see arson as a way out.
"It puts firefighters’ lives at risk,” Stephens said. “It puts citizens at risk and fire kills people."
We first met the students as they watched a demonstration at the technical college campus. A living room scene had been set up inside a garage. The students watched the instructor spray a trail of lighter fluid along the floor, up to a couch cushion.
The instructor started the fire with a single match. It took less than two minutes for the fire to rage.
"We can talk about it through PowerPoint and lecture,” the instructor said. “We can show video of it. But, we want the students to be able come out and actually see how it evolves."
Back at the old farmhouse, the students put that classroom arson training to the test. Instructors posed as witnesses, like the fire chief and the homeowner. One of the instructors is Wisconsin State Fire Marshal Michael Rindt.
"Every fire is a challenging scene,” Rindt said. “We try not to make these scenes as challenging as you'd see in the real world because we want these to be a learning experience for them."
There are seven different fire mysteries within this house. Some are set up as accidental fires and others as arson fires. Students take their notes back to the classroom and try to determine the cause.
Students will take these skills back to their communities, better equipped to catch the criminals who start fires. The students are firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and police officers.
"I don't know if we have a shortage of adequately trained fire investigators, but it certainly is a profession where you need to have continued training,” Rindt said.
WCTC said every one of the students passed the course and that the students correctly solved each of the seven mock cases.
The college did not allow TODAY’S TMJ4 to interview the students because of their active roles in law enforcement.