Fire Investigation
The Des Moines Arson Task Force

The purpose of the Arson Task Force is to provide a conceptual framework and to bring about a close, continuous cooperation and the coordination necessary to establish a system for the prevention and control of arson fires in the City of Des Moines. The members of the Task Force are a coalition of interested persons representing both the public and private sector.

 The Arson Task Force consists of two fire investigation teams. Each fire investigation team consists of a Senior Fire Inspector and a Senior Police Officer and an assigned person from the Polk County Attorney's office. All fires are investigated with the team approach in mind. The intent of the team approach is to provide better communication between fire and police officials as well as other agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, State of Iowa Fire Marshals Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Training is a priority with members of the Arson Task Force. Members frequently attend special schools and training seminars to update themselves with the newest trends and technology in the field of fire investigation. Members of the task force conduct regular training seminars for personnel of the Des Moines Fire and Police Departments. Part of this training includes live house burns. Upon request, investigators conduct talks to members of the public and private sector.

The primary Arson Task Force consists of two fire investigation teams compromised from members of the Des Moines Fire and Police Departments. Each investigation team will work an on-call shift for a period of one week, beginning on a Monday at 0800 hrs. and will conclude on the following Monday at 0800 hrs. On-call investigators are subject to respond to a request for a fire investigation at any time, day or night, during the above-mentioned time frame.

At a fire scene, investigators conduct an origin and cause investigation. This involves the examination of fire debris for clues as to how the fire may have started. Evidence is collected for analysis, photographs are taken of the fire scene and interviews are conducted with all people pertinent to the case. The final step of the investigation process is to write a formal report in which the findings of the investigation are detailed. Investigators, when required, testify to their findings in both formal hearings and court proceedings.

 Members of the task force assist both the private business and insurance industry sectors in an exchange of information in a combined effort to combat the arson fire problem.

The Des Moines Arson Task Force investigates approximately 350 to 400 fires yearly. Of the fires investigated, 65 to 75 percent are believed to be arson. Although the number of reported arson related fires has declined in recent years, arson fires continue to reflect some alarming statistics.

The National Arson Forum says if you know or suspect that an arson crime has been committed, contact your local fire or police official. In Des Moines, you can call the Des Moines Fire Department, Fire Investigation Division, at 515-283-4240. Calls can also be directed to the Arrest Arson In Des Moines Hot Line at (515) 223-1400. A reward fund is available to pay for qualified information.

Also, if you suspect a child of setting fires, Fire Investigators from the Des Moines Fire Department may be contacted for information regarding the department's juvenile fire-setter program. It may not be "just a phase" these children are going through.

The Des Moines Fire Department recommends the following steps that can be taken to reduce fire-setting opportunity:

Keep leaves, firewood, overgrown brush and shrubs away from building. Most arson fires start outdoors. Don't make it easy for an arsonist to start a fire or easy for an outdoor fire to spread to a building.

Keep matches and lighters out of sight of your children. In addition to juvenile arson, fire play by children too young to know what they're doing causes hundred of deaths and millions of dollars of loss each year.

Keep doors and windows locked when a building is unoccupied. It's not recommended that security bars be placed on windows an door without a quick release mechanism, or other security measures that could trap you in a building with a deadly fire.

Illuminate the exterior and entrances of buildings.

Keep shrubs and tress trimmed so buildings can be observed by Police and neighbors.

Secure ladders, external stairways and fire escapes from allowing access to rooftops.

If your business group or community group would like to have someone from the Des Moines Fire Department speak on arson, or if you'd like additional arson prevention information, contact the Des Moines Fire Department, Fire Investigation Division, at 515-283-4240

Remember, fire stops with you!