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Special Agents assigned to the Office of the State Fire Marshal work under the title of Deputy State Fire Marshals. Deputy State Fire Marshals use the scientific method to conduct investigations of fires and explosions for origin and cause. Deputy State Fire Marshals classify fire events as accidental, natural, incendiary or undetermined. Fire classifications may be used for assignment of responsibility, reporting purposes and compilation of statistics. Accidental fires involve those that do not involve an intentional human act. Natural fire causes involve fires without direct human intervention, such as fires resulting from lightning, wind or an earthquake. Incendiary fires are intentionally ignited fires in which the person setting the fire knows the fire should not be ignited. When the cause of a fire cannot be proven at an acceptable level of certainty, it is classified as undetermined. Use of the term suspicious is not an accurate description of a fire cause. Suspicious refers to a level of proof or level of certainty. Fires in which the level of certainty is possible or suspected, but not confirmed, are classified as undetermined.
Deputy State Fire Marshals use various methods to document and further investigations. They interview complainants, suspects and witnesses to develop information and collect evidence from fire scenes. Once all the facts of the case are gathered and reviewed, the case is submitted to the local district attorney for possible prosecution of arson or associated crimes. If the decision is made to prosecute a case, the assigned Deputy State Fire Marshal works closely with the prosecutor. Deputy State Fire Marshals must qualify as an expert witness in the area of fire science in a court of law for each case they testify in. In addition, many cases that the Fire Marshal's Office deals with are linked to other crimes such as fraud or homicide.
Because of the complexities found in fire investigations, Deputy Fire Marshals work daily with all types of professionals including law enforcement agencies and fire departments throughout the State of Wisconsin and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Fire investigations are collaborative and often lengthy ensuring compliance with current investigative standards.
The Office of the State Fire Marshal has one ignitable liquid detection canine, trained to alert in areas of fires that may contain potential accelerants. The K-9 and handler, certified by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, are used by agents and local law enforcement officers during their investigations.
The State Fire Marshal does not have responsibility for building codes or fire statistics (see instead Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services) or fire fighter training (see instead Wisconsin Technical Colleges).
For information about National fire statistics, please see the U.S. Fire Administration’s website http://www.usfa.fema.gov/statistics/
Contact Information for the Arson Bureau: