The HFD Arson Division
The law enforcement agency of the Houston Fire Department is the Fire & Arson Investigation Division. This division responds in the event of incendiary fires, multiple alarm fires, fire deaths, bombings and criminal or terrorist activity associated with fires. These investigations require personnel highly trained in fire investigation, evidence collection and forensic photography.
In many cases, investigators work with federal, state, and local agencies, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Houston Police Department (HPD).
In 2007 the division responded to 1,403 fires. One hundred sixty-two (162) of the criminal cases were referred to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office or the Juvenile Firestoppers program for counseling.
The division has 48 certified Fire Investigators working under the direction of the Chief Arson Investigator. All investigators are licensed peace officers certified by the Texas Fire Commission on Fire Protection and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Education (TECLOSE). Many investigators receive training in crime analysis, interviewing and interrogation, fingerprint analysis and polygraph testing.
Divisions within HFD Arson
The Crime Lab receives daily submissions of evidence from field investigators as well as other departments within the State of Texas. The Crime Lab, recognized throughout the United States as a leader in the field of fire investigation, developed the technique for fingerprinting fire-damaged evidence. Crime lab Investigators also reconstruct fire scenes and prepare demonstrations for courtroom presentations.
The Polygraph Division has three certified examiners who use the polygraph as a means of developing leads and obtaining vital information from witnesses and suspects during arson investigations. Admissions of guilt have been obtained during interrogations using the skills of these examiners.
The Photography Section processes fire scenes, enhances photographs and prepares evidence for courtroom presentations. This forensic photographer also assists other areas of the fire department providing photos for training and public relations.
The Task Force Units in this division participate with the Department of Homeland Security and on a joint task force with the ATF for the investigation of certain fire and bombings that may be related to hate crimes, domestic terrorism and businesses in violation of federal interstate commerce laws.
The Department of Treasury has placed a specially trained canine in the division to assist in the detection of accelerants present in fire debris. The Accelerant Detection Canine Program (ACDP) is a part of the ATF National Response Team and travels throughout the country to major fires.