At any time during or after an operational incident there may be a need to carry out some form of investigation. The types of post-incident investigations include:
- Fire investigation:
- Cause of fire
- Fire safety effectiveness
- Health and safety event investigation, such as:
- Near miss or hit
- Cause for concern
- Criminal investigation
- Transport-related investigation
Investigations may be carried out by:
- Fire and rescue services
- Health and safety regulatory bodies
- Environmental agencies
- Local authorities
- Transport enforcing authorities, such as:
- Legal proceedings
Conducting or supporting an investigation should be at the forefront of an incident commander’s mind during the dynamic phases of an incident and during post-incident activity. Incident commanders should have a basic understanding of the need to investigate and understand the causes of accidents, injuries and the behaviour of buildings, materials and people.
During any investigation, consideration should be given to an individual’s right to confidentiality and understand the needs of individuals including their culture, religious beliefs, ethnic origin, sexuality, disability or lifestyle, have regard to vulnerable adults and children, and have respect for the professional ethics of others. This topic should be included when establishing arrangements for multi-agency investigations.
To ensure that the correct level of investigation is instigated or undertaken, personnel should understand which agencies are responsible for investigations of various types and levels.
Organisations may have to carry out their own investigations depending on the incident type and nature of the investigation required. During an incident, it may be necessary to liaise with other agencies and hand over responsibility for the scene and investigation. To achieve this successfully will require pre-planning and good scene and investigation management practices. Refer to the JESIP publication, Joint Doctrine: the interoperability framework.
The police are responsible for investigating suspected crimes that include activity related to fires and other emergencies. The police have an additional role as the investigative body for the coroner or procurator fiscal; all fatalities fall within the coroner’s or procurator fiscal’s remit.
Health and safety regulatory body
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) are the national independent watchdogs for work-related health, safety and illness. They are independent regulators acting in the public interest to reduce work-related death and serious injury in all UK workplaces.
Where there is a work-related fatality the appropriate procedures should be followed. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance includes:
These are multi-agency agreements that the fire and rescue service and other organisations need to abide by when participating in investigations into work-related deaths.
In the event of a firefighter fatality, fire and rescue services should also refer to the information available in the National Fire Chiefs Council, Death in the Workplace Guidance.
Investigating a fire and rescue service
The police, Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) or other agencies may be required to investigate the actions of a fire and rescue service that has attended an incident. Whether the fire and rescue service under investigation is required to assist with the investigation will depend on the nature of the enquiries.
However, it may be prudent to anticipate this and ensure that arrangements exist where independent investigators, regardless of who they have been appointed by, can be given access to the facilities and information they require. The use of independent investigators may be required if there is the potential for a real or perceived conflict of interest for the fire and rescue service to carry out their own investigation.
Fire and rescue service equipment accidents or faults
If there has been a fault in fire and rescue service equipment, or if using it has resulted in an accident, there should be an investigation. The relevant department in the fire and rescue service, such as a health and safety department, should be notified. The equipment in question should be preserved for investigation and not put back in use until the correct service procedures have been completed.
Handover of an investigation
The handover phase of an investigation may take place directly at the scene or at a later stage, when all the on-scene work has been completed. The nature of a handover will be influenced by the type or level of the investigation, and range from a formal and documented handover to a verbal briefing.
Where a statutory or other agency is taking over, an appropriate level of formality should be employed and all reasonable effort should be taken to avoid the compromise of any evidence recovered.
For non-statutory agencies, local protocols or an assessment of each incident on its own merits will determine the extent to which the fire and rescue service can assist with an on-scene handover or maintenance of scene security. Most commonly, this category includes investigators employed by, or acting on behalf of, insurers.
When the agency or individual taking over the scene does not have a statutory role, the fire and rescue service should satisfy itself that it is appropriate for them to take responsibility for the scene.
The handover should include:
- Incident history, including the actions of the fire and rescue service, members of the public or other emergency responders
- Facts relevant to the investigation, including the methodology and actions taken
- Safety issues, such as risk assessment findings
- Other issues that may have had an impact on the scene or be of relevance to the investigation, such as witness details
For formal handovers, it may be useful to record the names and signatures of the responsible individuals from each agency.
It is important to remember that, where a scene is handed back to the owner or occupier, some of this information may need to be provided to them.
Handing over the scene or investigation may not be the end of fire and rescue service involvement as they may still need to provide support. In this case, fire and rescue service personnel should make themselves familiar with the working protocols of the lead agency.
Investigations may require several agencies to work together. Where possible, a lead agency should have overall responsibility, although this may not always be feasible as roles may change during phases of the investigation.
Time should be taken at the start to ensure a clear appreciation of each agency’s role, legal powers and duties, resource commitment and what they are seeking to prove or disprove. Arrangements for areas such as information sharing, administration, media briefings, team updates and so on should also be agreed at this stage. In some cases, it may be necessary to draw up formal written memoranda of understanding (MoUs) for an individual investigation to ensure clarity and agreement on the key areas.
As well as organisational interests, it is important to establish the competences and areas of specialist knowledge of the individuals in the team, and the role they will play in the investigation.
Other agencies may be involved for a limited time to perform specific tasks without being part of the investigation. The nature of their involvement, details of who was involved, and any impact on evidential material should be recorded.
Scene-based liaison will often tie in to existing local protocols and incident management systems, particularly with statutory agencies who will be familiar with this type of working.
Maintaining liaison away from the scene can be more difficult and the principle of providing single or named points of contact can ensure efficient and appropriate practices. This can be particularly important when managing the exchange or submission of documents, other evidence or where interviews may be requested. Too many informal contacts can compromise the evidence or the investigation due to a lack of formal records.
Where the details of other agencies or individuals are not known at the time, it can be useful to have a generic contact point for initial enquires that can be readily accessed, for example, through the fire and rescue service website.
In all cases, a managed approach to liaison can ensure that the investigation is progressed effectively; each agency can track their involvement and actions, with decisions set out and explained at a later stage if required.
Having clear protocols for formal and informal liaison processes will assist management of the investigation. Informal processes are particularly open to misinterpretation, where one party may feel they had an ‘off the record’ conversation only for it to be used subsequently and attributed to them as evidential material.