Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Safety, Security, and Emergency Management

First Advisor

Gregory E. Gorbett

Second Advisor

Sarah Morris

Third Advisor

James L. Pharr


The intent of a fire investigations is to correctly interpret the damage in order to identify the cause responsible for the fire and potentially help prevent similar incidents in the future. According to current guidelines of fire scene processing, fire investigators can implement the procedure of arc mapping as a tool to assist in the determination of the fire’s progression and origin at a fire scene. To do this effectively requires the investigator to identify and correctly interpret the damage to electrical conductors as thermal melting (i.e, fire damage) or electrical activity. This study examined the ability of fire investigators to visibly identify and interpret damage to electrical conductors under two different conditions. The first condition requested fire investigators to visibly identify and interpret damage to electrical conductors based on their personal experience alone. In the second condition, fire investigators were asked to visibly identify and interpret damage with the assistance of a technical bulletin prepared by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) that characterized the visual differences between fire and electrical damage to conductors. The results of this study indicated that regardless of an investigator’s level of experience, the interpretation of the damage could be misconstrued and is dependent on the individual investigator’s perception. Ultimately, the application of the ATF bulletin was found to be a helpful tool for investigators in determining the electrical status of a conductor that had sustained thermal damage but not to any statistical significance. This bulletin could be considered a useful resource in the arc mapping procedure to aid in the determining of a fire’s origin, but should be used in conjunction with other fire investigation techniques.