The Contra Costa County Fire Protection District's Fire Investigation Unit (FIU) is a full service investigative group providing around the clock coverage 365 days a year. The investigation unit currently deploys 3 full time shift investigators working a 48/96 hour schedule that mirrors the firefighters. This new program was put in place to not only serve the communities better but to provide more efficient expertise to our operations division. Between the three dedicated investigators and a full time supervisor, there is a little over 70 years of fire investigation experience. Additionally the unit members have attended several thousand hours of specialized fire and law enforcement related training during their careers. The members of the FIU came to the District with various backgrounds such as full time fire and law enforcement service as well as the private fire investigation field. Each Shift Investigator is supervised by a Fire Prevention Captain after hours. The FIU is expected to be involved in over 1000 investigations for 2016.
The District's Shift Investigators respond to all first alarm assignments and almost all other fires throughout our jurisdiction that occur during their shift to perform origin and cause investigations and try to determine where and how a fire started. Additionally, the investigators identify the potential that a fire could have been the result of arson. If a fire was caused intentionally then it is the FIU's task to seek out the responsible(s) and seek prosecution.
Occasionally through the course of investigations, fire causes can be identified regarding product failures that can lead to recalls that can potentially prevent further injury and death to fire suppression personnel and the citizens in the communities we serve.
The field of fire investigation is extremely specialized with a limited number of truly certified individuals with the training and experience to perform thorough, competent investigations.
The Fire Investigation Unit is considered the "authority" in fire/arson investigation by the law enforcement and fire service jurisdictions as well as the District Attorney's Office in Contra Costa County. Law Enforcement agencies tend to prefer that the FIU handle the majority of criminal cases that involve a fire and routinely rely on us to be the lead agency in these cases because they do not have the expertise. FIU Investigators often testify in court and offer expert opinions in their own cases as well as others where they were asked to consult on a particular case.
The Fire Investigation Unit is available to provide protective support for the fire inspectors tasked with fire life safety inspections where "officer safety" concerns are an issue anywhere in the county. Although always willing to help, local law enforcement agencies are just not able to be available to assist the District with our own fire life safety enforcement responsibilities.
As sworn peace officers the members of the FIU, while traversing the district, have the potential of supporting any of the law enforcement officers while performing their duties.
While performing investigations the members of the Fire Investigation Unit have often recognized potential fire life safety hazards and relayed the information to the fire prevention bureau for a more expeditious response to mitigate the situation thus creating a safer environment. Members of the FIU routinely provide fire investigation training both in the field and at the District’s training facility in Concord to academy classes and in service personnel.
The FIU collects most illegal and dangerous fireworks as required by the fire code from the general public so they don't fall into the wrong hands again, helping to make our communities safer. Additionally, law enforcement agencies also surrender the fireworks their officers collect during the year because they have no facility or storage capabilities.