Radford University students receive unique, controlled fire investigation training

Published: Apr. 13, 2022 at 8:48 PM EDT
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RADFORD, Va. (WDBJ) - Criminal justice majors at Radford University received one-of-a-kind training Wednesday evening. They were able to investigate after a real, controlled fire to find the source.

The training is put on by the Virginia Department of Fire Programs in collaboration with the college; it’s been taking place about six years.

“In class it’s easy because you have somewhat of an idea of what’s happening, but here it’s completely different,” says Vladimir Perez, a senior criminal justice major at Radford.

From extension cords to appliances to cigarettes to a full kitchen, each room of the trailer is set up differently, providing different challenges and causes for possible fire.

They are skills that fire investigator and course instructor Todd Jones says will translate even if they don’t become fire investigators.

“Some of these students may never think about being fire investigators, but being able to come and look at this and think ‘I may be interested,’ or carries over to other parts of criminal justice,” he notes. “Whether it’s writing a report for social services, the Department of Homeland Security, whatever job they have, they’re learning to do it from the ground up while using what we call the scientific methodology.”

“It’s to prove science,” adds Steve Phillips, Deputy Chief with the Virginia Fire Marshal Academy. “Not all fires are accidental, not all fires are intentionally set. So, it’s the job for all fire investigators to learn the tools and gain the knowledge to determine whether it’s an accidental fire or an intentionally set fire and go from there.”

The students form a hypothesis based on evidence, creating a report, and presenting it to their peers.

Only a few of these kinds of burn trailers exist, each one being used in three or four burns a year across the state. Organizers believe it’s preparing a new generation of first responders for real-world scenarios in a safe, controlled environment.

“I think that the fact that we get to have this here with us,” explains Perez. “I think that makes us one of the most fortunate students not just in the state of Virginia, but in the country really.”

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