San Antonio Fire Department set to unveil new investigative unit

Team will help take load off arson investigators

A new team of investigators will take over most fires, allowing arson investigators more time to look into criminal fire cases.

SAN ANTONIO – A call crackles over a two-way radio with an announcement that normally would get multiple fire trucks rolling.

Instead, the dispatch, about a house fire with victims trapped inside, is only a drill meant to get the attention of a brand new investigative team with the San Antonio Fire Department.

“They will go, they will assist the fire crews that are there, the battalion chiefs that are there, in determining a cause,” said Joseph Arrington, a public information officer for SAFD.

The team, which consists of ten members who will work various shifts around the clock, officially goes online Saturday.

The recent drill capped off weeks of training, that included the team members becoming state-certified fire investigators.

Collecting evidence after fires will be a big part of their job. (KSAT 12 News)

They were selected from a pool of dozens of applicants, and all are existing fire department employees who bring with them a diverse background of experience.

“I’ve got my techies, guys who are great on computers,” said Lt. Paul Ramos, who will help to head up the team. “I’ve got two that have criminal justice degrees. I have others that are just very meticulous in their processes.”

Ramos said none of the members has less than ten years’ worth of experience on the front lines as firefighters or paramedics.

“So now that experience, coupled with their education and their state certification, they’re very qualified,” he said.

The team was designed to help take some of the workload off of arson investigators, who will continue to investigate any fires involving criminal activity.

Team members will have to document the scenes with photos. (KSAT 12 News)

“If it is determined to be accidental, (the new team) will do the follow up on it. What caused this? Is it an appliance? Is it a candle? Was it children playing with matches?” Arrington said.

They also will be able to gather data about fires to help identify any specific dangers or trends within the community.

“We could say, ‘Hey, we’re seeing a trend in fires where people are leaving space heaters on or leaving candles unattended.’ Well, then we can work with our public education division,” he said.

Preventing fires is the main goal, Arrington said, and with the new investigative team, that may be within reach.

About the Authors:

Katrina Webber joined KSAT 12 in December 2009. She reports for Good Morning San Antonio. Katrina was born and raised in Queens, NY, but after living in Gulf Coast states for the past decade, she feels right at home in Texas. It's not unusual to find her singing karaoke or leading a song with her church choir when she's not on-air.

Tim has been a photojournalist and video editor at KSAT since 1998. He came to San Antonio from Lubbock, where he worked in TV and earned his bachelor's degree in Electronic Media and Communication from Texas Tech University. Tim has won a handful of awards and has earned a master's in Strategic Communication and Innovation from Tech as well.