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franklin county times

Cross-training with police helps change role of Arson Task Force

By By Marianne Todd/The Meridian Star
Jan. 25, 2001
Meridian Fire Department officials say the face of the Arson Task Force has changed drastically through the years.
In 1980, fire officials began doing fire investigations, but the reports being done weren't as thorough as they would have liked, said Meridian Fire Marshal David Henson.
At that time fire officials were working to improve the city's fire rating, and the state rating bureau required documented and thorough investigations for a higher rating, Henson said.
By 1984, all investigators with the police and fire departments had completed cross-training, and police investigators had gone through fire academy training.
On Monday, Investigator Vince Vincent was appointed to the Arson Task Force along with the department's accelerant-sniffing dog. The restructuring required the reassignment of three Arson Task Force investigators, said Fire Chief Bunky Partridge.
Two of those investigators Angela Williams and Jimmy Hoffer have been reassigned to full-time fire inspection. The third, Kelly Hannah, has been assigned to fire safety and education and to public relations. The restructuring better suits the needs of the department by allowing one full-time employee to investigate all fires, Partridge said.
Henson said while he cannot provide figures because his record system is not divided into categories of "arson," "incendiary" or "accidental," he believes that since the formation of the Arson Task Force, a significant number of arson arrests and convictions have been made.
Henson said investigators are required to determine the location and cause of all fires in their jurisdiction, document evidence and notify police when they believe the fire is suspicious in origin. The police, in turn, are responsible for all criminal investigations and proceedings, he said.
Marianne Todd is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail them at mtodd@meridianstar.com.