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Participants during bushfire investigation training.

A history of the Australasian Association of Fire Investigators Conferences

Back in 2007 the New South Wales Association of Fire Investigators held a Conference where naturally other States were invited. During that Conference Danny CARSON from the Queensland Association of Fire Investigators put forward a proposal for a National Conference to be held on the Gold Coast in October 2008. This was to be run by the Queensland Association. Despite considerable efforts the Gold Coast event did not occur.

This generated discussion amongst the various chapters and it was agreed by the Presidents and/or representatives that a meeting should be held to discuss ways of conducting an Annual National Conference that all chapters could contribute to without impacting on each Chapters own conferencing schedule. It was considered that we could get more bang for our buck if we came together and supported each other rather than compete for Australasian and International expert speakers. The meeting was coordinated by Brian Richardson and Andrew Kerr.

The meeting involving representatives from the Victorian Association of Fire Investigators, New South Wales Association of Fire Investigators, Queensland Association of Fire Investigators and the Fire Investigation Association New Zealand, and was conducted in Queensland on the 26 November 2008.

Present were Andrew Lundy, Brian Richardson and Gary Nash from Queensland, Greg Kelly and Mark Pollard from New South Wales, Michael Chopping from New Zealand and Andrew Kerr and Brian NEAL represented the Victorian Association of Fire Investigators.

From that it was agreed that all the chapters would contribute members to form a committee to organise the future National Conferences. It was agreed that biannual conferences would be held. Acting on advice and for ease of organising, the organising committee agreed on the Conferences being run under the banner of the Australasian Association of Fire Investigators (which was to represent all chapters who were contributing to the Conferences). It was agreed that the New South Wales Association of Fire Investigators would be the host the first of the Australasian Conferences in 2010 which became known as AAFI2010. As the New South Wales Association of Fire Investigators was the hosts the majority of the local work was born by them however the committee would contribute and support the conference through their own respective chapters. The committee agreed on basic rules for how conference was to be organised. This included the subject of seed funding, and disbursements of any profits that may ultimately be made. The New South Wales Association of Fire Investigators engages a promotions company ICMS. A very successful conference was over three days on 15-17 August 2010 at the Citigate Hotel in Sydney

Instructors at bushfire investigation training.

Instructors at bushfire investigation training.

The second of the AAFI Conference was hosted by the Victorian Association of Fire Investigators under the banner AAFI2012 – Fire Investigation in Australia – The Way Forward. This was held during 19-21 September 2012 at the Sebel Hotel, Albert Park, Melbourne.

After a thorough selection process, ICMS Australasia was employed to manage and organise the Conference. A website was established which was hosted and updated by ICMS Australasia. Web site content was prepared by both the Conference organisers and the local organising committee.

The website proved to be an important tool in the organisation of the Conference as it became a portal to all relevant information. Delegates were able to access program, registration and general information for the Conference. The value of this level of information being available is highlighted by the high number of repeat visitors to the site. The website included the following: Early Bird Program, Conference Program, Speaker biographies, Call for papers, Registration, Venue and Accommodation, Photo competition, Exhibition and Sponsorship information and Conference Secretariat Contact Details. In addition to the website regular e-zines (electronic newsletters) were sent to those on the database and out to a number of related organisations with requests to forward to their members. The list included over 800 contacts.

A total of 110 Main Conference delegates, 16 complimentary speakers and 13 complimentary exhibitors registered to attend the Conference. A total of 140 participants.

The program for the AAFI 2012 Conference featured over 15 speakers over two days of plenary sessions. There were two social programs – Welcome Reception and Conference Dinner which were both resounding successes. The State Ballroom was used for Trade Displays and Exhibitions. At night this was converted to the Dining Room where international speaker, Dr Peter Mansi presented an informative and revealing insight into his role and observations during the “London Riots”. This was extremely well received by the 145 who attended.

Dr Mansi provided an insight into the development and strategies employed in Fire Investigation in the UK together with some of his personal history, Arson Control Forum, SAFE Project and his involvement with International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI).

Brett Guerin Superintendent Victoria Police discussed from the Victoria Police view of the outcomes of the 2009 Royal Commission and the networking of agencies involved in Arson prevention. Best practice for all agencies, “Operation Firesetter” and Bushfire Arson Risk Mapping Overlays were also presented.

Bob Mathieson showed how New South Wales Fire service handles fire investigation and the effect of the Royal Commission had on this service.

Dr. Rebekah Doley spoke about Arsonists, identification, range, programs and targets. ACART treatment program and the difficulty in the treatment process for arsonists and the lack of information from a psychologist point of view.

Craig Lapsley Fire Services Commissioner for Victoria spoke about his role, Fire Services reform, identified growth in the future and with major disasters – Death Destruction and Displacement phases, major incident control and incident management capability.

Simon Langdon presented his project EyeFi which is a situational awareness, spatial video technology which provides fire’s intensity, behavior, location and progress in real time.

Paul Fearon, the Director of Energy Safety – Energy Safe Victoria, spoke about the role of ESV and how they are involved in fire investigation and legislation. They are concerned with safety, major incidents involving utilities and maintenance of electrical assets in to the future.

Attendance at the Live Burn Day of the AAFI2016 conference – Coogee – Sydney.

Attendance at the Live Burn Day of the AAFI2016 conference – Coogee – Sydney.

Peter Gallagher from New Zealand Fire Service presented a case study of the Tamahere Cool Store fire which included explosions, the loss of a Fire Fighter, multiple injuries and a major fire. Co-operation between agencies was highlighted with the motto of “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.

Senior Sergeant Andrew Kerr – Victoria Police, from his experience with the Phoenix Taskforce presenting a Coronial Brief and discussed the Interactive Brief, a computer generated program for the presentation of information to a court in a dynamic way. The use of this method meant that information and evidence generated, was able to be located and presented within the single brief.

Catherine Dunlop, discussed the fire investigator in the court situation and their roles. Important issues were to know your role, area of expertise, limitations.

Hon. Bernard Teague AO, showed what is important in court as far as the facts, clarity of evidence, expert witness, experience and your impartiality as fire investigators.

Bob Richards delivered the role, process and skills of the Loss Adjuster linking insurer with insured. Establishing liaison with agencies and providing the funding.

Jim Munday explained that fire investigation in private industry was quite difficult. Joint investigations and sharing information was a major part. The importance to avoid destructive examinations of scenes. Co-Operation was highlighted.

Ron Beazley gave a presentation on the Financial Ombudsman Services, which highlighted some case studies and the way the FOS reviews cases “In the eyes of the insured”

Ross Brogan, Bob Alexander and Richard Wood presented the current qualifications available to fire investigators in Australia including IAAI FIT, CFI and CFI Trainer, Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma, Master of Arts (FI), Advanced Diploma FI and the Wildfire Arson Investigation Management Course. This created interest amongst members.

Over the two days of presentations delegates gained an insight and relevant information regarding other fire service – fire investigation programs, new technology in presentation of information and recording of real time statistics of fires, court room and evidence presentation, especially expert witness, the work of psychologists in the field of arsonists, the work of the loss adjuster and insurance fire investigator and finally what the future holds for fire investigation in Australia. The theme was “The Way Forward” and this was emphasized throughout the conference, but the main item that stood out through all the presentations was that “co-operation” between agencies, police and investigators is essential. Dr. Peter MANSI has compiled a video presentation of the conference which is available for viewing on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUuyTT65xVk.

The Victorian Association of Fire Investigators is looking forward to hosting another dynamic AAFI Conference at Bendigo on 7 – 9 November 2018 with a theme of Bushfire Investigation – The Learnings are in the Ashes. This conference will involve 2 half days of plenary presentations by industry experts within the conference centre with a full day of planned live burns to experience a realistic bushfire investigation. These activities together with a planned trade show and conference dinner, will give fire investigators the chance to learn, mix and socialise with old and new colleagues from across Australasia and the world.

Ticketing opens at the end of March 2018.

For more information, go to www.vafi.com.au

Top image: Participants during bushfire investigation training.

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Michael Weekes is a licensed electrical inspector and Investigator. He is the President of the Victorian Association of Fire Investigators. He specialises in fire and electrical incident investigation. After 12 year at Energy Safe Victoria he joined Electrical Inspections Victoria P/L, as the Technical manager, managing inspections and completing compliance reviews and investigations. His clients include insurance and legal firms.

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