Showing posts with label Writers' Police Academy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writers' Police Academy. Show all posts

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Dressed for Success: A Firefighter's Turnout Gear - Information for Writers with Patti Phillips

What does a firefighter wear? Today, we have guest blogger Patti Philips. Patti and I met at Writers' Police Academy, and she is a kindred spirit when it comes to research. She also happens to be a professional photographer, so ThrillWriting loves the visuals that Patti brings to the blog posts that she's done for us. It's true, a picture can help us write a thousand words.

Patti - 

Firefighters have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

Walking into a house fire that could reach 1000 degrees in under a minute (that’s not a typo) or a chemical fire that may reach double or triple that temperature in seconds, while battling smoke inhalation as well, means a firefighter’s life depends on being supplied with the best equipment that money can buy. Without the proper gear, firefighters can’t stay inside a burning structure long enough to rescue victims or fight the fire successfully.

So, what is the right gear that keeps them safe and still allows them to do their jobs?

Tim Fitts, a veteran firefighter in North Carolina, and Coordinator of certification classes for firefighters and rescue squads at Guilford Technical Community College, demonstrated his gear on a 95 degree day in September. Fire isn’t selective about the weather, so it’s a good thing for us that firefighters train and work under all kinds of conditions.

The firefighter uniform is generally called ‘turnout gear’ by firefighters because they turn it inside out when not in use, so that they can step into it quickly and pull it on/up when the fire bell/siren sounds. Firefighters need to get completely dressed in about a minute, so any safe system that will speed up the process is used. Some guys pull on the boots and pants, grab the rest of the gear and finish getting dressed in the truck as it pulls out of the fire station.

The official name for the gear is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Parts of the firefighter uniform:

While on the job at a fire or rescue operation that might result in a fire, most firefighters will wear these pieces of clothing:

  • Boots, insulated with steel toes and steel shank
  • Cotton t-shirt
  • Gloves, insulated leather
  • Helmet, with neck flap and eye protection
  • Hood, Nomex
  • Jacket, insulated, with Velcro and spring hooks
  • Pants, insulated, with Velcro and spring hooks, with extra padding and pockets
  • Suspenders

These three hoods are each made of different fabrics:

  • Kevlar blend
  • PBI/Kevlar
  • Nomex 
Firefighters put a hood on before the jacket, so that it sits properly on the shoulders. They tend to wear two hoods to protect against a flashover, giving their heads the extra defense needed in the intense heat. If a flashover occurs, the firefighter will have about two seconds to get out of the building. If the hoods are not providing enough coverage, it will feel like 1000 bees stinging the ears at one time – it’s too hot to stand. It’s time to get out.

The helmets are made of thick, heat resistant plastic and often include Kevlar or Nomex flaps for the ears.

Firefighters are taught to fight fires on their knees (not while crawling) so the extra padding helps cushion the wear and tear on the knees.

In addition, the firefighters put on:
  • Airline and pressure gauge
  • Flashlight
  • Positive pressure mask
  • PASS device
  • Radio
  • SCBA shoulder straps, airtank bottle and backpack frame

The PASS device (Personal Alert Safety System) is a personal safety device used by firefighters entering a hazardous environment - a burning building. When the firefighter does not move for 30 seconds, it makes a loud, shrill, really annoying sound, letting others in the area know that something is wrong.

The mask on the left is a newer model, the one on the right? Older. There has been an upgrade in technology for the plastic in the mask, developed because at high temperatures, the old plastic would fail (melt). It was the weakest part of the uniform. The new version will not fail as quickly.

Note that even the air tank is protected with a fire retardant fabric.

The idea is to be protected from the fire and to be able to breathe safely while he/she works. The positive pressure mask on the SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) gear keeps the toxic air out as much as possible by allowing the tank air to flow continuously, even if the firefighter is not inhaling. By the way, the tanks are full of compressed air, not oxygen.

Most of the clothes have reflective tape so that the firefighter can be seen more easily through the smoke and low light/darkness. Some departments are large enough that they use color-coded reflective tape in order to tell the full-time firefighters and the volunteers apart.

The uniforms are sized to the individual firefighters, so that when they bend over, there is at least a two-inch overlap with the fabric pieces, and no skin is exposed to the crippling, blistering heat.
Indicating the length of the jacket.

Hip boots of years ago, are now old school because of the area of the body they left unprotected from heat. Now the boots have steel toes and shanks and are calf high or knee high in length.

When fully dressed, the firefighter is wearing about 70 pounds of equipment. Add more weight for the tools they have to carry – picks, axes, etc – needed to fight the fire.

After ten years, all turnout gear must be thrown away. It wears out because of repeated exposure to the intense heat and toxic elements. Many large, active fire departments dispose of the clothing after only five years, because of their more frequent use and improvements in technology.

Firefighting gear is not fireproof. It is fire retardant.

Some of the clothing has 3 layers, each layer performing a different function. People can only tolerate temperatures to 135 degrees, so the specialized fabrics extend the time available to do the job. Firefighters get very uncomfortable at 250 degrees, and the time limit for the firefighter at that point is about 30 seconds to reach someone and get out. One of the firefighters at Command keeps track of the men/women - where they are in the structure and how long they’ve been working the fire.

Nomex degrades at 400 degrees, so needs to be used in addition to other fabrics if fighting a structural fire. It tends to split when the wearer is running. When combined with Kevlar, it becomes more flexible and the fabric breathes a bit better.

PBI degrades at 1100 degrees, allowing a much better chance for the firefighter to stay safe while fighting a house blaze. It stays intact in the extreme temperatures and allows the firefighter extra time to get to a victim and then get out.

Gortex helps shed water

Heat goes through each layer a bit at a time. Each layer is a necessary barrier, in its place to protect the firefighter and keep his body from getting hotter than is safe.

After fires, all of the clothing needs to be taken apart and washed, because everything in a fire is carcinogenic. Hmm…that means that the entire time a firefighter is working the fire, his equipment has to protect him from the flames and the smoke, as well as anything else thrown into the air, both in the active fire and in the area outside the building.

Some fire Captains insist that the clothing be stored away from the sleeping area at the station, because it may still contain toxins even after being washed. If you get a chance to visit a Fire Station, you might be able to tell where the gear is kept, before you ever reach the room. The smoky odor is sharp and unforgettable.

                                         Cost of Basic Turnout Gear (approximate)
      • Pants, jacket, gloves - $1,150.
  • Boots - $175
  • Helmet - $150
  • Nomex hood - $60.
  • PASS device - $300.
  • Airpack with mask - $4,500.

Tim Fitts told us about the testing going on at NC State’s College of Textiles, in the search for better, more effective, fire retardant fabrics.

To see a demonstration of how a firefighter’s uniform reacts to fire, click here for NC State’s PyroMan video

Every second counts when rescuing you or your pets in a fire. We know that a simple house fire can fully engulf an 8’x10’ room in 90 seconds. That’s not a typo. If the firefighters are on the scene before that happens to the entire house, they need as much lead time as possible in order to keep a rescue operation from becoming a recovery operation. That’s when the best turnout gear on the market is worth every dime.

*Photos by Patti Phillips, taken at Guilford Technical Community College, NC, during the 2014 Writers’ Police Academy.

Thanks to Tim Fitts for generously sharing his knowledge and expertise. Tim is a veteran firefighter and Fire Occupational Extension Coordinator at GTCC. He’s in charge of all Con Ed certification and non-certification classes in Fire and Rescue subjects to members of NC fire departments and rescue squads. Any errors in fact are mine, not his.


Patti Phillips is the person behind Detective Charlie Kerrian at

Her ebook, “Kerrian’s Notebook, Volume 1,” is based on the first year of the popular blog. 

Many of Phillips’ short stories and non-fiction articles are based on the interviews she conducted at the Writers’ Police Academy as well as the intensive WPA sessions she attended over the years. 

Hundreds of Phillips’ photographs can be seen on her blog and around the internet. 

Her book reviews can be read at

A huge thank you to Patti for today's tutorial.

And as always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Breach, Baby - An Explosive Way to Get Your Hero into the Building: Information for Writers


GREM breach
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This article is based on my experience at the Writer's Police Academy 2014 and was instructed by Cpt. Randy Shepherd. Cpt. Shepherd serves as the Division Commander of the Pesonnel and Training Division. He is the Assistant Team Commander  of Guilford County Sheriff's Emergency Response Team (S.E.R.T.) and team Commander of the Mobile Unit. He's my sniper of choice if I were ever in dire straits. You can read more about Cpt. Shepherd's sniping HERE

There are times when it is imperative to write your heroes into a fortified building fast. And the way to do it is not to knock politely at the door.

Some ways to enter a building (interior or exterior doors):
1. Knock
2. Mechanical breach - such as lock picking
3. Ballistic breach - uses a projectile to open the lock such as
    shooting the locking system.
4. Thermal breach - cutting through with a blow torch
5. Water breach - using water to cut. This is used when there is the
    possibility that a spark would explode the building.
6. Ram
7. Explosive Breach

Why would your hero need to use an explosive breach?
1. The door is barricaded (such as 2x4s on brackets)
2. There are multiple locking systems
3. Tactical considerations including:
   `history with this suspect
   `situation - such as hostages
   `intel from an informant

Other considerations:
1. They decide on the threat matrix - for example an explosive
     breach puts children at a higher risk.
2. What is going on inside of the building? Using an explosive
    breach would be a no-no for example in a meth lab.

An explosive breach uses the normal eight-person team. They are dressed like any SWAT team with protective gear including helmets, protective plating, and Kevlar shields.

When the commander has determined that they will go in and that they will need to do an explosive breach, they lay the explosives. In this case they used 100gram detonation cord with C4 which is very stable (AKA detonation cord, detacord, det. cord, detcord, primer cord).

English: A U.S. Marine Corps explosive ordnanc...
A U.S. Marine Corps explosive ordnance disposal technician prepares a reinforced detonation cord filled with Pentaerythritol Tetranitrate (PETN) for a simulated aerial assault at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, Aug. 30, 2010. PETN is a stable explosive and is detonated by shockwave or heat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It sticks to the inside of the door. The door jam and the hinges are the weak points. The bad guys will fortify the locking side of the door and leave the hinge-side less protected.

They attach 2 blasting caps. That way if the first fails they are not endangered while placing more blasting caps. Why might a blasting cap fail? Perhaps it wasn't attached correctly. If the second blasting cap fails they call it a "fail breach" and they move to a second entrance that was already predetermined.

US Navy 090306-N-7130B-308 Armed Forces of the...
US Navy Armed Forces attach blasting caps to detonation cord before conducting a controlled demolition of live ordnance  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They do not only go through a door - sometimes they go through the wall - but it's good to have intel so your hole doesn't end up somehwere difficult like behind the refrigerator.

They will run the fuse to a safe distance.

* First they check to see if the door is locked.
* The commander yells "breacher up"
* Breacher says: 
  "I have control"
  "Breach 3...2...1..."
   When it doesn't work, "Fail breach."

When it does work there is a LOUD explosion.

I was sitting about fifty yards from the explosion. I felt the concussion cross my chest like three narrow waves of air. It raised the hair on my arm. My ears had a mild ring. But, actually feeling the concussive waves was very astonishing.

Hope this was helpful in getting your hero safely into the building, now find the heroine and save the day! Happy plotting.

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Human Memory and Eye Witness Accounts - Information for Writers


Excerpt from WEAKEST LYNX -

     “Wilson’s stable. In police custody at Suburban. He’s being charged with breaking and entering with intent to harm, and possession.”
     I waited for the rest of the charges.
     Striker pursed his lips.
     “Wait. What about six murders and an attempted murder?” My voice squeaked.
     “The D.A. is having trouble putting together a case. The original six were linked to you by the MO. We have no evidence. None. Though they’ve been working on developing the case since your attack.”
     “But what about me? I saw him. The neighbors saw him. We confirmed the police sketch. Surely…”
     “Subsequent to seeing him, you sustained a traumatic brain injury. The defense can shred your eye-witness report on the witness stand. Same with the neighbors. They were running in the dark. Could be a look alike. There were no prints, no DNA, no motive linking you two. They need something more or they can’t make the case.”

THE INNOCENCE PROJECT "Many wrongful convictions overturned with DNA testing involve multiple causes: 75% involve eyewitness misidentification... Prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective defense, police misconduct and racism are harder to quantify but were also factors in many of the wrongful convictions that have been overturned with DNA testing." 

75% of wrongful convictions involved eyewitness misidentification? How is this possible?

The first thing that needs to be understood about memory is that humans do not process events like a video recorder. We process information based on focus, intensity, and past experiences. 

All of our individual past experiences form "schema" in our memory banks. As we encounter information our brain looks into its schema-files and develops an understanding based on what it has experienced before.
When one remembers an incident the various past schema can overlap and mingle. The witness memory can be crystal clear - but it might not be the reality of what took place.

The dorsal stream (green) and ventral stream (...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Four Types of Memory

* Cognitive - These are sequences and patterns.
* Motor Vestibular -Body memories such as
   playing a instrument or driving a car
* Emotional/Affective - These are memories of
   feelings like grief and fear.
* State - These are memories from the senses. State
   memories seem to be the most helpful in developing
   a  clear picture of what occurred. PTSD plays from
   this memory - a certain smell or noise can trigger a
   physical reaction. Auditory memories are less reliable than visual
   memory. But  as a plot twist, an author should understand that
   witnesses are more confident in what they hear than what they

The Stages of Memory 

''Note that in this diagram, sensory memory is...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* Short Term - Unimportant data that is processed in the now. If
   the brain deems something to be important it moves the
    information into long term memory.        
* Long Term - Can be retrieved from past events. One's ability to
   recall depends on how information was processed. Processing
   depends on which of the four types of memories or which
   combination were used to interpret and "cluster" (this is basically
   a filing system).

The more significance-in-the-moment and the more types of memories involved create the clearest and most accurate memory picture. As a writer, think about your character. As she remembers something, which of her memory types is she using? For example, does she cognitively recall the fear that slowed her sequence of her actions when she smelled the smoke? Could she be making a profound mistake because she clustered the schema and now has a faulty memory? Did she remember the man saying, "I will kill you!" when she was really merging the event with a nightmare she had had just the night before?  

Remember that no two people could ever remember an event from the same perspective. It's just not possible. What if your characters had completely different memory schemas of an event? Wow - all hell could break loose!

VIDEO QUICK STUDY - (9:02) FALSE MEMORY AND EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY                                             interactive, very interesting!

So we know that people will perceive with four different kinds of memory. They will either store in their long term memory, or not. They will develop a schema based on their past experiences and cluster these in their memory banks. But what are some of the components that might interfere in a clear and accurate memory? 

A list of possibilities:

* Beliefs
Animation of the structure of a section of DNA...
Animation of the structure of a section of DNA. The bases lie horizontally between the two spiraling strands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* Stress levels
* Cross Racial Identification Bias
   Brains are wired to identify distinctions in our own
   race but NOT other  races. 
* Distinctive Aspects - People will remember
   particularly attractive or especially unattractive
   physicality better than "average" looks.
* Age of Witness - Children and elderly are less
  accurate and their descriptors might be different as
  well. Example: to a five year old "really old" could
  mean someone who is in their thirties.
* Gender - Men and women remember different
   aspects because of how their brains are wired. A
   man, for example, might remember the make and
   year of a car while a woman might remember that
   it was blue.
* Profession - Ex. an artist might have a better ability
   to recall the face structure while a physical
   therapist might notice a posture or unusual gait.    
* Drug or Alcohol Use
* Head Trauma - As in the excerpt from Weakest
* Weapons Focus Effect-If there is a weapon present
   the witness focus remains on the weapon (duh) and
   not on anything else in the environment.
   (LINK - Blog about my experience as a eye witness
     in a simulation)
* Attention - A victim or bystander will pay more
   attention to details if they are aware of what is happening
   than someone who is not aware that something is going on. Even
   if the witnesses are very attentive and good with faces, it is hard
   to find the words to describe a person. Try this experiment - think
   of someone you know very well, now try to describe out loud
   their features so that someone could draw them
   (Witness recall and Police Sketch Artists)
* Setting - Full day light, face full on, length of time of incident
   and time when recalled. 20 min can cause a sharp decrease in the
   number things that can be remembered.
* System Variables - These are police and legal procedures that
   can introduce bias.

In the 1977 Supreme Court decision in Manson v Brathwaite (Information Link)  - It was determined that eyewitnesses are allowed to testify if they are very sure of testimony. If they are unsure it is up to the judge in the case whether to allow or not. Psychological studies have shown that the degree of certainty does not correlate with accuracy. 

Many countries realized that innocent people were going to jail based on false witness memory - remember the witnesses can be 100% sure of themselves. They are not in any way "bad"; it is the way that memory works that makes eye witness testimony so very difficult. In 1999, Janet Reno was tasked with trying to develop procedures to help prevent some of these false-memory reports.

If your book takes place AFTER 1999, it should reflect these changes:

* Police ask open ended questions. Instead of asking, "Did he have
   a gun?" thus planting the memory of a gun, the police should ask,
   "Do you remember a weapon of any kind?"

* Police should pause before asking another question, giving the
   witness a chance to think about a situation and perhaps remember
   another detail - This is one I used a lot in my counseling practice:
   Ask. Answer. Wait.

* The police should inform the witness that they can say, "I don't
   know." This helps to prevent the witness from trying to fill in the
   blank with information that is being pulled from a different

* The police, when possible, should physically walk the witness
   through the crime scene. This might trigger memories from the 
   "state" memory bank.

* Careful use of Police Lineups - A line up, either in person or with
   photos, should be done in a double-blind scenario. The officers 
   who are conducting the lineup should not know who the suspect
   is. This stops the voice inflection and body language tells that are
   picked up by the brain of the witness ex. "Are you sure that's the 
   right guy?

  VIDEO QUICK STUDY of Line Up Experiment (1:45)
         spoiler - none of the photos were of the criminal
  VIDEO QUICK STUDY - Line Up and False Memory (4:35) The
         students were extremely sure of
         themselves and would have, under the Supreme Court ruling, 
         been allowed to testify. Watch their faces
         as every single one of them realizes that they were wrong.

Relative Judgement - when a witness tries to pick the person who most closely aligns with the memory of that person. To prevent the witness from feeling that they HAVE to make an identification the officers should say that the subject MAY or MAY NOT be in the lineup. Also, the members in the lineup should be presented sequentially one after the other and one at a time. Witness will compare the suspect to the mental picture and not use relative judgement.

Fillers - the other people in the line-up should look similar. If         the suspect had dreadlocks then the fillers should have dreadlocks. If the witness picks a filler, then it should be noted that their recall
might be questionable. 

         VIDEO QUICK STUDY Comparing with Filler (3:00)
         Shown through an experiment and description

How can your heroine help?

During a crime the heroine could look for anything that is unique and difficult to shed or change such as:
        * Body-type (height, weight), tattoos, scars, focus on ears and
        * Movement - limps, postures
        * Voice - lisps, unusual accents or speech patterns

As soon as possible - and without talking to ANYONE ELSE the heroine should sit down and write down all of  the details that she can recall - She could write them, sketch them, or even call and leave a message recording so she can retrieve the information later.

Try this mini-experiment:  Eye Witness - How Do You Stack Up?

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Book Review: Police Procedure and Investigation

South Australian Police officers wearing duty ...Image via WikipediaHowdunit - Police Procedure and Investigation - A Guide for Writers by Lee Lofland

Is listed on Amazon for $13.59 and used from $9.90

RATING: Highly recommended

Lee Lofland was involved in law enforcement for two decades and is now a writer and the sponsor of The Writers’ Police Academy. (For further information about the 2011 WPA please see my labels below. Also, there is a link under my blog list for Graveyard Shift - Lee‘s blog). In person, Lee is hysterical, and I very much looked forward to reading his book, that I was lucky enough to win in the raffle.

This book walks a crime writer through the labyrinth of law enforcement. Chapter 1 starts with an overview of our policing system. Who is in charge of what? How is a police department organized, and just what does a sheriff do anyway? Lofland reviews the hiring process -which is arduous. The departments look into every nook-and-cranny of a potential hire's life. It’s very intrusive. Lofland then reviews the missions of the various federal, state and local agencies. Very helpful if you are trying to figure out who is going to show up and investigate. For example, I thought that
drug culture fell under vice - it turns out that many departments have a separate drug department because the manpower need is so great. And the illicit drug investigators will work closely with gang investigators, etc.

Lee then spends a chapter helping us to understand the training. Last spring, I had the opportunity to go to our
State police Academy to ask questions. These men and women must maintain high standards in all aspects of their training - one little glitch and they are out. Most police officers with whom I have spoken all tell me that their job is the culmination of a life-long dream; they had always known they were supposed to be officers. Can you imagine the heartbreak of failing to attain the uniform?

Lee goes through the pertinent aspects of the job. He talks about what a police officer does versus a detective. How arrests are made and searches conducted. How death is categorized and investigated along with crime scene investigation techniques including fingerprinting,
DNA, and autopsy. He includes the court process, prisons and jails, and the death penalty. And, Lofland loves to critique TV, so he included a chapter entitled, “C.S…I don’t think so.”

Of further help to writers’ is a glossary of terms, an index of 10 codes, drug quantity, and federal sentencing tables.

Lofland has written clearly, in an accessible voice, with vocabulary free of cop-speak. It is non-fiction that has the hold-you-to-the-page quality of a novel. A great reference - if you’re doing your due diligence and want to get the sequencing, procedure and players right.

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Blood Pattern Information for Thriller Writers

English: blood, human, splatter, dropsImage via Wikipedia
Blood is a big part of my life. I don’t mean the blood flowing through my veins - though yes, that’s a really big part of my life. I mean the all over the place kind of blood. I have children. My house often looks like a crime scene, as I explained in my Wirters' Police Academy Intro.

WPA 2011 Blog article
But also, my youngest daughter is a type 1 diabetic. I prick her finger, and use her blood, an average of 21 times a day to figure things out. A drop of blood is analyzed by her meter giving me a snap shot of what’s going on in her body. Is it the whole picture? No. Is it the big picture? No. It’s just a momentary snippet of information. In that moment, I had an idea of what was happening. Putting all of these snippets of information together day after day, week after week, helps me to form my ideas as to what the bigger picture of my daughter’s health looks like.

This is my understanding of how a
forensic scientist goes to work. Each piece of information is added to other information, and soon a picture starts (hopefully) to form. Today, we revisit our hero Dave Pauly whom we met when he was teaching us about how to see "Crime in a Different Light." In this chapter, our forensic specialist is involved in getting a picture of what could have happened to create the blood covered crime scene.The big name for all of this is “Blood Stain Pattern Analysis” or BSPA. The goal here is to determine velocity, direction and point of origin.


Mechanisms o:f Deposition:
Passive - clot, drip, pool, flow saturation, serum separation.
Transfer - swipe and wipe
Projected - arterial spurts, cast off, expiration, splashes
Miscellaneous - fly spots, voids

Transfer Patterns - occur when an object that has blood on it rests on a surface leaving an

Swipe and Wipe Patterns - occur when there is blood on a surface and something moves
through the blood.

Cast Off Pattern - occurs when there is blood on an object and the blood is flung off as
the object is swung through the air.

Shadowing and Ghosting - these are void patterns where an object or person was in
place as blood patterning took place and then the person or object
moves away.

Blood dropping onto blood - self explanatory, creates small droplets
Point of impact - how an object impacts a blood source

Arterial Spurts - When an artery has been breached it releases blood with great velocity
Expiratory - occurs when blood is coughed or sneezed. It is a fine misting. This also
occurs when there is a gun shot and the bullet leaves with velocity.

The tail of the blood droplet points to the direction from which it came.

Blood will change its pattern based on the angle at which it contacted the surface. Once you know the angle the forensic scientist can use a protractor to attach strings and find the spot in which the victim had been. This is a geometric calculation and they are looking for an area of convergence.

Video Quick Study (3:11) Dexter Blood Spatter
Video Quick Study (2:01) Examining blood stains

Video Quick Study (8:14) Studying blood stains
Video Quick Study (2:17) Blood spatter 101 - very interesting use
                                of lasers

Video Quick Study (12:07) part 1 of an academic lecture 
                                link  prt2 (7:40)


THE USE OF LCV - is a chemical substance that is used to check for blood in -
* Missing person cases where a crime is suspected.
* Areas where a suspected violent crime occurred but it has been cleaned/bleached
* Visible substances suspected to be blood

Luminol experiment:Video Quick Study (2:49) Luminol

Video Quick Study (13:24) BlueStar - is visible longer and is now the go to for many CSI investigators.
LCV is readily mixed in the field. It has 0% false positives, BUT this does not mean that you can determine if it is animal blood or
human blood. Hmmm that’s where your plot could thicken.

Did you know they can use LCV to find blood on a wall that has 9 coats of paint on it? The blood can be over 30 years old and the LCV still works?

There should be no ambient light. They spray a fine mist over the target area and if ther eis blood it will show up for a few seconds as bright green. There is a product called Lumiscene that lasts much longer allowing for better photography.

So how do you know if this evidence will be admissible in court? The products used must meet general acceptance standards.

While not a fan of Wikipedia, I am supplying these links as a starting point for your research:
Daubert V. Merrell Dow Pharmeceuticals LINK

Frye v. USA LINK
I hope this helps. Feel free to leave a question or a comment below.

And why not take a moment to +1 this page and send a link to your friends on Facebook and Twitter? Buttons conveniently placed below.
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Arson Information for Thriller Writers

English: House fire using gasoline as accelerant
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Jerry Coble, the Assistant Fire Marshal for Guilford County, stood in front of our class with a burned out pot in his hand. The burn went clear through the bottom. “What do you think caused this?” he asked. My mind searched for the right answer, too much beer? the distraction of a pretty girl? insufficient kitchen instruction from your mom when you were growing up? He never answered. I’m guessing “pretty girl” was correct. Heroes and damsels go together after all.

Fires can be caused by three things:
Accidental - “Whoops, baby, you’re so smokin’ hot, I thought it

                     was you that was settin’ off my fire alarm.”
Incendiary - “Aw, honey, I was just trying to get a spark goin’ I
                     didn’t think your whole trailer would go up!”
Providential - “I think the Lord above knew I’d get to meet you
                      when he sent that bolt of lightening right into your
                      place, and you had tah run out ah the shower and
                      into my arms that ah way!”

Believe it or not, and I know this will stretch your imagination, but most arsonists are men. Men with a motive.

The most common motivators are:
* Fraud
* Crime concealment
* Vanity (they want to be a hero)
* Civil disorders
* Rash action of a juvenile - Under six, it’s an accident. If it’s

                  a child over six they are probably acting out of
                  spite or revenge.
* Spite/Revenge - now if this is a woman and she’s extracting her
                  revenge at night, she will stick close to her house or an
                  area with which she is familiar. If this were a man, he
                  will go anywhere. 
* Pyromania - and who doesn’t feel a touch of pyromania from
                  time to time? Especially when the moon is full and the
                  night air is crisp. But here is an interesting fact
                  SERIAL KILLERS often start out as fire setters.
                  Creepy huh?

Now go back to crime concealment. Are you trying to conceal a murder? A fire will get rid of a whole lot of evidence. If the victim was strangled or poisoned, even shot or stabbed in a way that a bone was not nicked, the method of death would not be determinable. No blood spray patterns. No bodily secretions. No finger or foot prints. But don’t think that the body will disappear. The trunk bones of the body will remain and the body can be identified by the teeth. Though some bodies are so far gone that it takes an expert eye to see the remains amongst the debris. HINT many bodies are found not from seeing them but smelling them. A charred body smells like BBQ and the bodies will attract flies just like unburned bodies do.

So you’ve caught your house on fire to hide your murder scene. Did you do your do diligence? HINT A house built 100 years ago will burn slower than a new house. The plastics used in today’s houses make them burn hotter and faster. If you need your scene to survive the blaze, you can write the scene into a turn of the century (1900s) house and that will give the fire fighters a better chance of getting there and putting out the blaze in time to save your crime scene or your good guys in desperate straits.

Another HINT if you are doing a crime cover up - it is almost impossible to get a fingerprint off a gas can. The plastic and oily residue means that there is a 99.9% chance that there is no fingerprint.

Also, if your villain is throwing a
Molotov cocktail make sure it is in an easily broken GLASS container - not plastic, or it will only bounce. But bombs are easy to build. You just need a fuel and an oxidizer. We asked Jerry for a few simple recipes, like so many fifties’ housewives looking for directions on how to bake a prize winning chocolate cake. His hands went to his hips, and he shook his head in disbelief. Did we really think he was allowed to stand up there and teach us bomb-making techniques? Guess not. Sigh. Well there’s always the internet.

There are several stages to a fire:
* Incipient - first of beginning fire.
* Free Burning- rapid heat, spreading flame, lots of oxygen is being

* Steady State - the fire burns throughout the house or structure, 

                    very high temperatures.
* Smoldering Stage - Burning is reduced to glowing embers.

If someone were to run up and kick down the door during the SMOLDERING STAGE there would be rapid oxidation and the flames will leap up with rapid flame and heat. This is how BACK DRAFT takes place. This is bad news for our heroes!

FLASH OVER - you must have an
open flame. Everything reaches a critical point all at the same time and BOOM! It’s Armageddon. When this happens, vapors come off the heat and it LOOKS like an accelerant was used. However, a flash over is usually at table height. If an accelerant is used the markings are usually on the floor. HINT if your villain has done his homework then he knows about flash points and accelerant trails. This villain would make sure to disperse the accelerant at tabletop level to mimic a flash over.

Ah but not so fast. There are still some tell tale signs that would be much harder to hide. This is Pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is the chemical decomposition of a solid through the action of heat. When something burns, there is a demarcation of where it burned (char layer) and the normal wood, untouched by the fire. If this is cupped then they can tell that a liquid of some kind has gone into the cracks and carried the fire deeper at the cracks making the pyrolysis curved.

They would also be looking for fire marks. Fires burn up and out like a fan. If the fire burned down then it was probably following an accelerant trail.

They are looking for crazing on glass - that is where the glass heated and then cooled rapidly. This can show the use of an accelerant in the area - but also the use of water and even possibly a flashpoint. So, careful with the crazing detail.

Also, if you are describing a fire scene the MOST smoke will be further away from where it started and LESS smoke will be close.

In an
ELECTRICAL FIRE it would have started from inside the wiring (where there is copper) if it was accidental and from an external source if it was set. Careful here - make sure there was nothing that could do the deed accidentally like a wire near a heat source.

A great way to start an on-purpose fire - take a lit cigarette and place it in a book of matches. Set this down on a bed near the pack of cigarettes. Better still, spill a glass of booze on the bed in the same area. Make sure it’s tucked in near a pillow and the mattress. It will take about three hours. The foam material will melt and drip down. Foam padding is HIGHLY TOXIC when it burns.

Not a smoker? The best place to start a fire is in the kitchen. It is very, very hard to detect if a fire were set on purpose in a kitchen.

What if someone was burning their own house? (BAHAHAHAHAHA! my computer alerted me that this was a non-standard question. Well, I hope so!) HUGE CLUE they will have taken the photos out. It’s the only thing that can’t be replaced.

I hope some of these notes prove helpful.
If you have any questions please let me know and I will try to answer them.
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Randy Shepherd, Sniper Information for Thriller Writers

ID: DMST8807422 Released to Public Service Dep...Image via Wikipedia

"FinDot" reticle.Image via WikipediaIt was fun to meet Randy Shepherd. He wears a broad and ready smile. Friendly, enthusiastic and just plain nice. He wears muscles on top of muscles, stacked high. Tight hipped. Cowboy stance. The gait of a soldier. His eyes invite conversation. Teasing is met with a quick wit. Definitely a ladies’ man, with a long history of banter practice under his belt.

Randy has a pulse of 54. Do you know what other animal has a pulse of 54? An Ox. Latent strength. I thought that it would be a bear in hibernation, but their rate is about nine beats per minute. And even Randy would be dead at that rate. Reptiles in cold conditions can get their heart rates down to 54. But not your typical guy. Of course, Randy is not typical.

He is able to keep his heart rate low by running. A lot of running. Marathons-just-for-the-fun-of-it running. His low heart rate is one of the keys to his success. That and nerves of steel. Incredible patients. Eagle eyes. Oh, and a willingness to lie there as he’s covered in bugs and other creepy crawlies, hour after hour, heat, sweat, cold, rain, whatever. Randy is a sniper. The winner of national sniping awards and a Lt. with the Guilford County Sherriff’s Dept.

Randy likes math. He was giddy over the idea of a cosine. Cosine make me nauseated. Well, they did back in college. If Randy had been my teacher, I would have had a better handle on my stomach. When he describes the formula, it is very interesting - it's exciting to think of math formulas from Randy’s point of view. And applicable. Maybe not for me - I’m not sniper material. I’d fall asleep if I had to lie still for eight hours at a time. Rifle  or no rifle. Bad guy or no bad guy. Exciting math formula or no. I’d either be asleep or swatting at the bugs, and needing a potty. Let's just say my pulse is not reptilian.

So here’s a little bit about sniping.

First the T Box - a T box on a face include the eyes as the top of the capital T and the nose as the stem. If a bullet hits in this area, the control portion of the brain will stop instantly. There will be no convulsion. The person who was hit would be unable to pull a trigger on the way down. Nothing. Just splat. Gone.

Snipers are trained to hit a 1” box at 100 yards. - 1” a football field away. 1”!!!! I’m thrilled to hit the bulls-eye at 20’. This area is multiplied by distance. For example at 200 yards the box is 2” and at 300 yards its 3”. At 300 yards! At 1,000 yards, he hits a 10” square. I didn’t know there was enough loft in a bullet to make it fly 1,000 yards. There are 1,760 yards in a mile just to make the distance clear.

Randy has a logbook where he meticulously documents weather conditions such as temperature, humidity, and wind speed. He uses these as a reference when he is adjusting his sites. Did you know that a 20-degree difference in temperature could shift the rise or fall of the bullet by 1” so if Randy were shooting on a day when it’s 40 degrees and a day when it's 100 degrees, the difference in the bullets movement would be 3”. Very significant when you need to hit the 1” box on the T.

Adjustments are made by changing the clicks on their cross-hairs  Theses changes are made in increments of minutes. A circle is divided into degrees and the degrees are further divided into minutes.

They have a formulaic for someone who is walking or running or sitting still. Randy never mentioned one for someone doing the tango - but it was probably because no one brought it up. Surely, Randy has thought of every contingency.

As Randy shoots, he has to not only consider hitting the T, he also has to consider where that bullet is going as it exits. Randy wants to embed it in a wall - he doesn’t want it to keep flying. I certainly don’t want it to keep flying!

So where do those cosines come in?

In Randy’s little black book, where he keeps all of his important numbers, he knows the heights of average things. The height of a window, a door, a lamppost etc. at various distances. This helps him figure out how far he is away from his target. He also knows how high up he is given the floor he is standing on. Important.

If someone from the ground were to say to Randy on the 14th floor, “Hey Randy, we have a laser on him and he’s 380 yards away.” Randy has to take into consideration that that measurement was taken from a 180-degree angle. Randy is shooting from 154’ above. This would make the distance considerably different. Randy does his math calculations (Randy does this - not me. I said it was interesting, not that I’d actually partake) and comes up with the correct distance. He sets the minutes on his reticle of his crosshairs and he’s ready should the shot become necessary.

When is a shot necessary?
When there is imminent danger.

Do the snipers use lasers on their guns?
No, it makes them lazy and it’s just one more thing to go wrong - mechanical failure issues. And we don’t need any issues when trying to get a bullet in that 1” box at 1,000 yards.

Is sniping a glamorous life?
Yes if your idea of fashion is a ghillie suit. This amorphous garment is made to disguise human form by making you one with nature. Basically, you look like a shrub.

The sniper practices being in place for 12 hours at a time. That’s where Randy’s sloth-like heartbeat comes in handy. The snipers are formed into two man teams called “sniper elements.” They try to have eight snipers in a situation. Imagine a building as a diamond. Two elements (4 people) sit together. One sniper element observes the right wall and the other sniper element observes the left wall. There are two other sniper elements doing the same thing only on the diagonally opposite side of the building. Watching walls three and four. So now, each wall of the building is being watched by a sniper element.

Let’s say Randy is on the element looking down the front of the building. He counts off the windows and doors and feeds this information to Command. The snipers try to find indications of what could be in each of the various rooms so if a ground team goes in, Command has an idea of where they are going. Person one on the element will look at their section with binoculars and report anything that they see, especially any movement to Command. They are trying to figure out where the bad guy is hanging out. Possibly barricading himself in.

While Randy’s partner is on binoculars, Randy is breathing steadily, heartbeat is low, eyes shut. He is in a state of suspended animation. On a cue, Randy will open his eye, train his rifle on any given window that is called by his partner, and shoot.

If after 12- 15 minutes nothing happens. They switch. Both snipers have their own guns. Though they train at regular intervals on each other’s guns - just in case one of them has mechanical issues.

They work on a SWAT team. Randy’s SWAT team is made up of two entry teams (16 men) and an 8-man striker team.

If you would like a link to more sniper math information try this:

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