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Is Your Origin and Cause Expert Really an Expert?

The NFPA-1033(22 Edition) update is now available, which is required reading by all Origin and Cause (O&C) experts. This update elevates required education and knowledge levels of the O&C expert. While some O&C experts debate the value of a college education, the NFPA-1033(22) updates clearly distinguish areas of knowledge that can only be achieved with postsecondary education or proven experience caseloads.

It’s important for those who hire O&C experts to read and take note of this latest NFPA-1033(22) update. It provides great guidance for attorneys and adjusters to effectively review the experts they hire to avoid negative issues that could occur later, for example, in subrogation.

For example:

Is your expert familiar with and able to articulate and apply the concepts of Daubert and Kumho, the two leading U.S. Supreme Court cases dealing with O&C expert qualifications? These two cases address the issue of the O&C expert who provides an opinion without a scientific foundation upon which to base it.

Do you know the specific technical experience your preferred investigator has relating to the field of fire investigations? A high school education or college degree that is unrelated to the science of fire investigation is not relevant.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: Are they fully qualified as a fire investigator under the standards of NFPA-1033(22)?

The NFPA-1033(22) update:

The new edition of the NFPA-1033(22) shows an advancement in the standards and required qualifications for O&C experts. As a forensically educated (MS) O&C expert who cut his fire investigator teeth in adolescence, peering over his father’s back at the 1980 MGM Grand Hotel fire in 1980, I believe the standard has much improved. Let’s review what’s new and what’s important.

Of the 1033 “list of 16” subjects in which a fire investigator is expected to have state-of-the-art knowledge, the first four are crucial:

  • Fire chemistry
  • Thermodynamics
  • Fire dynamics
  • Explosion dynamics

The fire investigation community, comprised largely of people without college degrees, lacked consensus for requiring any more than a high school diploma. Ironically, it is generally recognized that many of the subjects in the above list of requisite knowledge are not taught in high school. (Change is hard.)

Many fire investigators who have worked in the profession will argue that 20 years of experience equals a college education. While that is true to some extent, the two are not mutually exclusive. Many of us with relevant college degrees have also spent 20 or more years in the profession and garnered the same on-the-job experience. As the field of O&C fire investigation continues to evolve, so will its requisite knowledge, and that means more than a high school education will be formally required at some point.

I believe the changes shown in the 1033 “bible” of fire investigative standards are much-needed and long overdue. Our world continues to change and evolve, and the depth of knowledge an O&C expert possesses is impacted by every fire they investigate. An O&C expert needs to keep pace with the subject areas espoused by the NFPA-1033(22), regardless of whether they have a college education and as in rare cases, an advanced forensic or other scientific education.

As an attorney or adjuster, before hiring an O&C expert, ask yourself if that expert has the knowledge base, as defined by the NFPA 1033(22), to identify and articulate the following scientific concepts:

How to balance a chemical equation like that for the combustion of hydrogen or methane “stoichiometry”;
The phase changes and reactions that might require or produce energy (exothermic/endothermic);
Material properties (density, conductivity, specific heat, deformation, melting, vaporization, vapor pressure);
Combustion properties (flammable limits, minimum ignition energy, critical flux for ignition, ignition temperatures, heat of combustion, flash point of liquid, and fire point).
Response of materials to heat (melting, dehydration, pyrolysis, charring, loss of mass, deformation, evaporation, and calcination)

Bottom line: You do not want to get to court and learn that the court has struck down your “expert’s” opinion because their opinion is based on a lack of relevant scientific education. Ask up front, before hiring your expert for your investigation, if they meet the required knowledge of the NFPA 1033(22). You’ll be glad you did.