How to Find and Select a Fire, Explosion, or Chemical Release Investigator (CFEI) Expert

A superior Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI) expert enables the retaining attorney to knowledgeably and efficiently work for his/her client regarding the legal issues of liability (responsibility), damages, restitution, and potential punitive, and/or criminal consequences. In a fire, explosion, or chemical release, an CFEI expert provides an astute understanding of the event and is a powerful and insightful resource for the legal process to facilitate discovery. The CFEI also offers an essential element to successfully strategizing either litigation or defense.

Why a Fire and Explosion Expert Should be Used

The goals and reasons to engage an CFEI expert are as follows:

●     Identify cause, determine primary and secondary effects, and resulting consequences, based on objective analysis and sound scientific principles

●     Provide an effective knowledge basis for all involved through an accurate and thorough analysis

●     Provide an appraisal of damages and depending on the circumstance, prevention of a similar situation in the future

●     Assist the retaining attorney in preserving evidence, navigating discovery, and determining the technical aspects of the event

Where to Find an CFEI Expert

There are a number of resources and avenues to finding an CFEI expert. First, look for referrals and/or prior engagements within the firm. Second, an internet search using the following keywords can yield excellent options: FIRE, EXPLOSION, CHEMICAL RELEASE, DUST.

Consider an online Expert Witness directory and/or professional organizations such as National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI) and International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI), as well as their conferences--these are sources of CFEI experts.

What to Expect and Request from an CFEI Expert

An expert is not an advocate. Rather the CFEI expert provides an objective and independent investigation of the event. He/she then delivers clear explanations of the science and engineering behind the event to the legal representative(s) and the jury, judge or arbitrator.

When choosing an CFEI expert, consider the following:

1. Areas of specialization and experience in fire types: Oil, natural gas, chemicals, coal, metals, dust, industrial, agricultural, warehouse, residential/home, equipment, autos/trucks, airplane, marine.

2. Knowledge: Fundamental thermal science and engineering of combustion, chemical reactions, explosions, fuels, material science, heat and mass transfer, and fluid mechanics.

3. Analysis capabilities for the fire, explosion or chemical release event: Investigation skills, process systems analysis, data analysis, mapping, determination of the fire or explosion dynamics. computational fluid dynamics (CFD), site reconstruction and animation of the actions during the event. This may involve determination and modeling of gaseous concentrations, temperature profiles, multiple ignitions, fire spread, pressure waves, acoustical effects, and the resulting human injuries or death and equipment and structural damage.

4. Investigative tools: Mapping, thermography, chemical analysis, ignition sources determination, mechanical failure analysis.

5. Credentials: Education (PhD, MS, BS) in the fundamental science and engineering of combustion, chemical reactions, fluid mechanics, heat and mass transfer, and mathematics. Industry licensing such as Professional Engineer (PE); accreditation, certifications (CFEI, IAAI), and training; publications and presentations.

6. Reporting and testifying capabilities: Fair and objective, strong verbal/written/testifying skills, instruction experience (education).

Also important is the expert’s ability to gain a quick understanding of the fire or explosion. It’s critical that he/she be able to identify what type of fire or explosion occurred including such details as the fuel and type of event (natural gas line leak, gasoline or motor fuel, explosion, wildfire, did it involve chemicals or dust, etc.) to determine the origin and cause.


Involve a CFEI expert ASAP for the most efficient and effective representation of the client’s interests. Engage an expert before the discovery process of witness statements and interrogatories, and before other agencies that may miss deadlines for reports, legal requests, etc. How well an attorney uses an expert's knowledge, experience, and unbiased insight is often the key to success and factors substantially in the presentation (and therefore the outcome) of the case.

Intellectual integrity, thoroughness, and the ability to communicate are important skills for an CFEI expert to have. The expert must have an astute ability to teach or translate complex technical or scientific descriptions/explanations into layperson's terms.

A CFEI expert’s accurate analysis enables the retaining attorney to knowledgeably and efficiently work for his/her client regarding the legal issues of liability (responsibility), damages, restitution, and if applicable, potential punitive, and/or criminal consequences.

EPS offers: Fire, Explosion, Combustion, and Ignition Forensic Science, Chemical and Release Analysis, Engineering Inspection and Design, Accident Reconstruction, Financial Appraisal of Damages, Reporting, Expert Testimony – John A. Williams, PhD, PE, CFEI, AIChE Fellow