New Training Facility Recreates Fire Scenes to help Investigations

Published on 6 July 2023

On the 5th of July 2023 a new Fire Investigation Training & Research Facility was opened in Aberdeenshire

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Fires will be simulated at a new fire investigation facility in Aberdeenshire to better understand the most likely origin and cause.

The project has been created by the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Dundee, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) Forensic Services and the Danish Police.

The Joint Scottish Fire Investigation Training and Research Facility in Porthlethen opened on Wednesday, 5 July and will support forensic scene investigation techniques used by firefighters, police and forensic services personnel.

Two purpose built containers were made to look like domestic rooms before being set alight and extinguished by firefighters.

The resulting burn scene can then be examined by SFRS and Forensic Services as part of a training and development programme. The project will also provide materials for research in to new and emerging technology, including the implementation of virtual reality  - created by as at LRCFS as a way of viewing fire scenes, and form part of the National Crime Scene Management training course.

Graham Strong, Forensic Operations Lead alongside Karen Robertson, Lead Forensic Scientist said: “This new joint facility represents a significant step forward to help SPA Forensic Services and SFRS to deliver for our criminal justice partners and the Scottish public. It allows realistic training to enable Fire Investigators to keep up their high-level skills in one of the most complicated areas of Forensic work.

“This collaboration between Forensic Services, SFRS, Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science and the Danish Police Special Crimes Unit is truly innovative and will assist training which will be used to advance new technologies, ensuring Scotland remains a world leader in the provision of Fire Investigation”.

The rooms will be set up as realistically as possible, with donated furniture and appliances connected to a mains electrical supply, before then being set alight.

The fire will be photographed in such a way as to enable it to be rendered in to Virtual Reality by experts at the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science at Dundee University allowing Forensic Services and SFRS to retain a bank of scenes which can be used in a virtual environment for training purposes.

SFRS Area Commander David Dourley said: "Simulating a fire scene allows us to better understand how fires start, take hold and develop. This facility is a great addition to training for our staff and will enhance our fire investigation processes.

"By understanding more about how things burn, and getting experience in a simulated fire scene, our teams will be able to identify important tell-tale signs following a fire to help us determine the most likely origin and cause.

"This facility allows for research into new technologies and emerging risks, for example, we'll be able to look at items containing lithium-ion batteries and the impact of these types of fires."

While the facility is a Scottish venture, there remains a significant international collaboration with the Danish Police.  Data from scenes collected at Portlethen will be shared with Danish colleagues while they, in turn, will share their own.

Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science Director Niamh Nic Daeid said: “It has been a real pleasure to work together to develop this facility and partnership in Scotland and to use technology to aid our understanding of fires and provide training tools for the next generation of fire investigators."

Training for all agencies involved in the project is expected to begin at the site from August.

Group photo of respresetatives from LRCFSm SFRS, SPA Forensic Services and the Danish Police

Dr Heather Doran

Public Engagement Manager

+44 (0)1382 381583