In 1985, the Knox County Fire Prevention Bureau in conjunction with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office began investigating fires to determine their origin and cause. The Fire Marshal and an investigator assigned to the Fire Bureau from the Sheriff’s Office were responsible for investigating all fires. The county received an exemption from the State of Tennessee for plans review and inspections. This exemption also applied to fire investigations. The Fire Marshal was designated as an Assistant to the Commissioner of Insurance, which delegated the authority to perform investigations.
Origin and cause investigations are performed at all fires so that an incendiary cause is not overlooked thereby allowing a criminal to escape justice. When the cause of a fire is determined to be of incendiary causes then a criminal investigation is conducted. The Fire Investigation Unit also works closely with public education and fire inspection personnel who work to make Knox County a fire-safe community.
The Knox County Fire Investigation Unit currently conducts all fire investigations outside the city limits of Knoxville. This unit is made up of two investigators from the Fire Prevention Bureau, a Detective assigned from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and two volunteer Origin and Cause investigators from area fire departments. The Fire Investigation Unit investigates all working structure fires in Knox County. In addition, vehicle and ground cover fires are investigated when the engine company officer believes the fire was intentionally set. All follow-up investigations are the responsibility of the Sheriff’s Detective and the Fire Bureau Investigators.
During fiscal year 1995 the Knox County Fire Investigation Task Force began assisting with on-scene investigations. The Task Force is currently made up of almost twenty firefighters, law enforcement officers, and technical experts who have been trained in various fire investigation techniques. The membership of the Task Force currently includes individuals from the Knox County Fire Prevention Bureau, Rural/Metro Fire Department, Karns Fire Department, Knoxville Volunteer Rescue Squad, Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Forensic Anthropology Center from the University of Tennessee’s Department of Anthropology. The dedication, work ethic and skill displayed by the members of the Task Force have earned the respect of public and private investigators from across the state.