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Russell Dickson

Russell Dickson is a second generation fire fighter. He has served with the NZ Fire Service for the past 42 years, and been responsible for determining the origin and cause of fires for the last 30 years, while serving as an operational Station Officer. He has been a specialist fire investigator since 2001 and now attends Auckland's most serious fires.

He says "As a Specialist Fire Investigator in the NZ Fire Service I am required to respond to significant fires in accordance with our National Commander's instructions.  My principle objectives being, to coordinate, supervise or undertake investigations into major and serious fires, including suspicious and fatal fires. My objective is to determine the point of origin of a fire and from this establishing the cause of the fire. I have previously given evidence of Fire Investigation or origin and cause of fires in the District and High Courts of New Zealand. I have attained a Graduate Certificate in Fire Investigation from the Charles Sturt University in Sydney, Australia and completed the NZ Fire Service Investigation training courses". 
Why do you do the job - what motivates you?     
After 30 years as an operational fire fighter and officer I wanted to deal with how fires actually started. Over the years I had attended a number of fire investigation courses, which continue to inspire my passion and motivation for fire investigation.

Tell us more about the process of fire investigation.
It starts from the call being received, finding out what the first callers have observed. Then at the incident it begins with information gathering from the occupants to the fire crews. I follow the investigation process as detailed in NFPA 921.

What is the most interesting part of the job for you?
I am intrigued by the investigation process, especially when dealing with what people observe compared to what the physical evidence tells me. It is like a jigsaw puzzle and you have to place all the pieces together.

Tell us how you handle the human cost of fire.
I don't get emotionally involved but seek to be compassionate to the victims of fire. It helps with me having many years as an operational officer where I have experienced many fire situations and dealt with many people at the various types of fires.

Tell us about some of the most common causes of fire and what frustrates you about them.
It is said that men, women and children are the main causes of fire because of the human involvement in many of the most common fires. Unattended cooking - at times involving alcohol - is often a cause. Electrical fires are often caused by loose connections that generate heat. Arson also features regularly as people often believe that arson can't be picked up but tell-tale signs are left behind. Arson is a horrible crime that often has a wide impact ruining lives at times because of some of the significant losses involved.

Tell us how you feel about people who deliberately set fires.   
Some people, in particular youths, do not have any idea what extensive damage can result from a single reckless act of fire-lighting. Others who light fires for personal gain or revenge should be strongly dealt with.

What it was like to have a film crew shadowing you while you worked?
It makes you think more about what you are doing as you often are explaining the fire as you go. Also it does slow down the investigation but I appreciated why and the benefits of being able to broadcast the impact of fires across our community.