Preserve evidence for investigation

Control Measure Knowledge

Fires, floods or other emergencies can destroy or significantly alter structures, vehicles and objects; key evidence may be lost before the fire and rescue service arrives.

An ongoing incident and the actions of responders can affect evidence required for an investigation. The aim of personnel should be to ensure evidence is not destroyed or disturbed where possible. On arrival, consideration should be given to:

  • How fire and rescue service activity may affect any subsequent investigation
  • Identifying and prioritising the preservation of evidence that may deteriorate
  • Minimising contamination of the scene

If the scene needs to be examined as part of a criminal investigation, it should be carefully preserved to protect evidence. The unintended consequence of simple actions such as washing down equipment after an incident may destroy or damage evidence.

Where evidence cannot be preserved physically, information to support investigations should be captured in other forms. For example, physical evidence noted on arrival, such as broken windows or suspected remains of incendiary devices, should be documented and photographed if feasible.

Once in attendance, the fire and rescue service can ensure that as much evidence as possible is preserved. Identify potential evidence and take steps to preserve or retrieve it where it may be lost during operations. It may be appropriate for the task of collecting physical evidence to be allocated to a police crime scene investigator or fire and rescue service investigator.

It may be necessary to cover windows, doorways or other apertures that allow people to see into the scene inside a building or other structure. For other types of incident scenes, the use of tarpaulins may help to preserve evidence from exposure to the elements.

The decision to leave identified physical evidence at the scene should be carefully considered. To assist with an investigation, if it is essential to move anything, a record of observations should be kept, including details of actions taken and the reason for doing so.

If evidence may be lost if left in place, the fire and rescue service should consider seizing it. There should be a secure storage area in which to keep it, and service procedures for its collection and handling.

Care is needed where insurance claims may be made, as ownership of the property may transfer to the insurance company.

Incident commanders should confirm:

  • All information relating to the incident
  • Age, gender, name and contact details of the deceased, casualties and witnesses
  • Whether life has been confirmed extinct if there is a deceased casualty at the scene
  • Details of any agencies in attendance, such as utility companies
  • Information recorded by the entry control operative, if required
  • Entry route and tactical methods used to effect entry
  • Doors and windows open or broken at the time of the incident
  • Emergency fire and rescue service vehicle call signs
  • Whether personnel have recently attended similar incidents, in case of cross-contamination

Other sources of information, may include:

  • CCTV footage from:
    • Emergency responder vehicles
    • Body worn cameras
    • Buildings
    • Control rooms
  • Fire or intruder alarm systems at the scene, including any remote, offsite recording systems
  • Photographs, videos or voice recordings of the incident, including those:
    • Captured by personnel
    • Captured by witnesses
    • Downloaded to local news sites or social media sites

Recovery of casualties and their personal property

If surviving or deceased casualties need to be moved or removed, care should be taken to ensure that their personal property is kept with them. If this is not possible, a record should be kept of the location of items; it may be useful to photograph the items before the casualty is recovered.

The positions of deceased casualties are extremely important for identification purposes and to help establish cause of death. The removal of bodies should only be carried out under the direction of the police or statutory investigation team.

However, removing the bodies before the arrival of investigation teams or medical teams may be necessary to rescue other casualties, or to prevent the bodies being destroyed by fire or other event. Where this is the case, the position of the body and its location should be noted, labelled if possible and reported to the investigation team.

Personnel who have moved bodies should be questioned and make a statement as soon as possible after the incident, to improve the accuracy of their recall. Whenever possible, an officer should be appointed to map out as accurately as possible the location and position of bodies, bearing in mind that some incidents, may result in them being distributed over a wide area.

Any personal property that fall from the casualty or body while they are being moved should be collected, recorded and kept with the casualty or body if possible, as it may prove to be a means of identification.

Bodies that have been badly burnt become brittle and require careful handling by trained personnel so as to avoid vital evidence of identification or cause of death being destroyed.

It may be useful for photographs or video to be taken of the scene of the incident and the position of the bodies. This can also assist in debriefing purposes.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions