Fire Origin & Cause Determination

Fires by their nature can be extremely destructive and destroy the evidence of the cause. Performing a thorough origin and cause investigation requires that a scientifically-based methodology be applied to identify the fire origin, consider all potential fire causes and determine a specific fire cause to a reasonable degree of engineering certainty. Crane Engineering utilizes fire investigators that are also engineers with the education, experience and certifications to perform detailed and comprehensive fire origin and cause investigations. Crane also has a multidisciplinary engineering team available to complement any fire investigation with electrical, mechanical, structural, metallurgical and data forensics expertise as needed.

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Explosion Investigation

The pressures produced by an explosion can cause catastrophic damage to a facility and the potential for occupant injuries and deaths. The investigation into the cause of an explosion can be exceedingly difficult due to the massive amount of damage that is caused and the large area over which important physical evidence can be dispersed. Evaluation of fuel gas systems (natural gas and propane), chemical incompatibility of materials, mechanical overpressure mechanisms, explosive materials, the presence of combustible dusts and other potential causes of an explosion can be crucial to a successful explosion cause determination. Crane’s engineers have experience documenting, investigating and determining the cause of explosions, both small and catastrophically large.

Electrical Systems and Fire Cause Evaluation

Electricity is commonly, and often times inappropriately, attributed to the cause of fires. Evaluating an electrical fire cause requires knowledge of basic electrical principles as well as applied knowledge of electrical equipment, components and systems. Crane’s engineers have experience investigating possible electrical fire causes, analyzing building electrical systems and performing equipment failure analyses. 

Fuel Gas Systems

Crane Engineering has decades of experience evaluating fuel gas systems and their potential cause of fires and explosions. In addition to performing investigations involving fuel gas systems, Crane is actively involved in the development and maintenance of several standards related to the fuel gas industry. Crane Engineering also has the equipment and resources to perform pressure and leak tests of gas systems, gas sample collection for analytical testing and laboratory testing of gas system components.

Fire Protection Systems

Fire suppression and alarm systems are intended to detect, alert and control fires. However, system impairments, improperly designed systems, damaged components, inadequate maintenance, changes in building occupancy, increased fuel loading and even sabotage can cause fire protection systems to fail or become overwhelmed by a fire. Crane’s fire protection engineers evaluate the various aspects of fire protection systems as they relate to the growth and spread of a fire as well as the attributes of the system that may have prevented successful detection and control. Crane also has experience in the evaluation and analysis of specific fire protection system components including sprinklers, smoke detectors, pipe couplings, fire alarm control panels, etc.

Product Design/Manufacturing Defects

The failure of commercial products is often the focus of fire cause investigations, either due to a product recall or the mere presence of a product in a suspected area of origin. Crane Engineering has extensive experience performing evaluations of products to determine the potential for fire cause.

Fire-Science Metallurgy

The intense heat of a fire can leave characteristic [SN1] indicators on metal components at a microscopic and sub-microscopic level that require a detailed metallurgical analysis to determine the history of a component as it relates to the origin and/or cause of a fire. Metallurgical analysis of components involved in a fire can be used to determine whether damage to a metal component was caused mechanically before a fire, induced by heat as a result of a fire or by some other means. Often, a detailed metallurgical analysis can be used to rule out potential fire causes and/or identify specific damage that led to a fire’s cause.

Combustible Dust Fires & Explosions

When materials are processed or manipulated to the point where they become very small particulates (powders or dusts), their ignition and flammability characteristics can change dramatically. What was once rather benign from a fire hazard standpoint can become a flash fire or explosion hazard when in particulate form. Numerous flash fires and explosions over recent years have been caused by the ignition of combustible dust clouds with disastrous results. Investigation of combustible dust incidents requires a unique understanding of combustible dust hazards, safety standards, dust deflagration and explosion mitigation strategies as well as explosion dynamics. Crane Engineering has engineers with experience with performing investigations of combustible dust fires and explosions. In addition, Crane is active in the development of standards related to combustible dusts.

Fire and Computational Fluid Dynamics Modeling

Computer-based computational models can be used to assess complex principles related to fluid dynamics, fuel gas migration, heat transfer, fire growth, fire dynamics, fire exposures and other complex scientific and engineering principles. Crane can utilize several different computational techniques to assess phenomenon that may be difficult and/or costly to assess, test or examine using traditional, scientific, engineering or analytical techniques.

Vehicle, Machinery, Marine & Agricultural

The investigation of fires involving vehicles, machinery, boats and agricultural equipment can be exceptionally challenging due to the combination of numerous fuel and ignition sources, complicated electrical systems and oftentimes congested engine and equipment compartments. Careful investigation and analysis of the evidence remaining after the fire is required to determine the vehicle's involvement in the fire. The challenge of identifying and sorting out the significant evidence from the burned fire debris residue requires specific training and practical experience. Crane Engineering has fire investigators with OEM experience and certifications in vehicle fire investigations as well as practical hands-on experience with vehicle systems. This includes losses involving large ships and issues related to maritime law.

Data Recovery, Collection, Acquisition and Analysis

Important data collected and stored on electrical devices can be jeopardized by the effects of fire. Heat and corrosive products of combustion can possibly destroy or corrupt data that could be critical to a successful fire investigation. In addition, data collected by building management systems (BMSs), programmable logic controllers (PLCs), video surveillance systems as well as security & fire alarm systems can contain information that can be used by the fire investigator to assist in the recreation of the events or conditions leading up to a fire. Careful attention needs to paid to the potential for corruption of this data and special techniques and equipment must be utilized for successful and accurate recovery. Crane’s data forensics specialists have successfully recovered data from complex and damaged systems to provide important information that was crucial to the determination of fire and explosion causes.