The Fire Expert Witness

As many of you know for number of years I have been utilized as an expert witness in fire related issues. I have had the opportunity to provide expert witness service on cases that involve fire life and safety requirements, firefighting strategy and tactical decisions, labor relations, harassment and or hostile working conditions, smoke and fire flow in buildings, arson fires, training accidents, and other related fire cases.

I’m often asked, what are the requirements to become an expert witness? If you review the Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 702 states “a witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:

  • The expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
  • The testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
  • The testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods: and
  • The expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case. For example, I was hired as an expert witness on a case that involved a firefighter trainee who was injured on the training ground. The trainee’s contention was that the apparatus operator had the apparatus engine pressure too high. This caused a surge in water pressure which consequently caused an extreme high nozzle reaction that knocked the nozzle out of the firefighter’s hand hitting him in the head and knocking his helmet off. He fell to the ground, hit his head and was seriously injured. In summary, becoming a fire expert requires years of experience and knowledge in the field. It is necessary to become familiar with the facts of the case and explain in a deposition and, if necessary in the trial.
  • During the case deposition, I had to explain the concept of nozzle reaction and identify the hydraulic formula that determines the amount of pressure when nozzle reaction occurs. While this is a simple concept to the experienced fire expert, I had to explain the concept and formula three times to the attorney.
  • In a fire related incident and or case an intelligent evaluation of facts to the lay person is often difficult or impossible without the application of some scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge. This is where the fire related expert witness is used. What might appear to be rudimentary to a fire expert witness is often difficult for a lay person to understand.