EHS Career Trends/Certification

Investigating Arson

This content was originally published in January 2000. For the latest in safety management, visit our archives or try our online compliance portal,

It’s very rare that a firebug is caught in the act. Most arsonists are caught through circumstantial evidence.

Many courts have ruled that circumstantial evidence can be used by a jury to find an accused arsonist guilty of the crime. That’s why it is so important for supervisors to gather the important facts about workplace fires.

These facts, no matter how ordinary they might seem, could give the police, fire department or insurance investigators the key clues for breaking a case.

In addition to other information the company might need, here are some examples of red flags for the supervisor after a fire occurs in the workplace:

  • Note time, date, location of the fire. Be exact.
  • How was the alarm sounded—and by whom?
  • Take names of witnesses to the fire, especially those who saw it start.
  • Recall the names of employees who have been discharged lately and the real reasons. Were they disgruntled? Did they show signs of unbalance or make threats? Note any other unfavorable facts.
  • Did any visitors arrive before the fire? Ex-employees? Friends or enemies of employees?  Workers from other shifts?
  • Do you recall any previous fires? Were there any break-in attempts? Are any keys missing?
  • Has anyone shown a fascination or interest in fires?

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