Why firefighters are setting fires on purpose

Posted at 4:30 AM, Oct 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-18 07:09:19-04

SHARONVILLE, Ohio -- The Sharonville Fire Department Lieutenant sets multiple fires every year at Scarlet Oaks -- for education.

Fire investigators -- those who analyze the scene of a blaze after firefighters have successfully extinguished it -- can only learn by doing, but it isn't a good idea to bring Scarlet Oaks' investigators-in-training to the scene of authentic fires. Willi Jones, who is studying firefighting and emergency medical service at Scarlet Oaks, said as much.

"(In) a real-life situation, you have the crazy chaotic-ness of families, friends, neighbors, the news," he said.

That's why Sharonville firefighters like Lt. Chris Ellis build structures specifically designed to be safely burnt down and inspected by students. These aren't just standing walls. They include couches, beds, decorative knick-knacks and appliances, all donated to the fire department or Goodwill stores, to create a realistic environment mirroring that of a real fire.

Despite the importance of fire investigation as a profession, Ellis said fewer and fewer new investigators are entering the field.

"Now, it's a lot of retired guys in the fire service that do it," he said. "There is a very high need. Not a lot of people go into this field because it's so difficult."

Fire investigators represent a sorely needed future supply of investigators, whose work can help verify insurance claims and identify cases of arson.

"Each and every life that I help will give me so much more satisfaction with this field," Jones said. "I'm really excited about that."