Evidence from fire scenes should be packaged so that the sample is protected from evaporation of volatile residues or contamination of the residues after they are collected. This is best accomplished by placing the sample in an air-tight container. The most common are clean unused paint cans with a friction lid which is tightly sealed. Glass jars with tight fitting screw-on lids (using a Teflon type liner) may also be used. If glass jars are used, take care that they will not break during transport or shipment.
Nylon and polyamide "arson" plastic evidence bags are acceptable containers as well so long as they are sealed properly (completely heat sealed). BFS strongly suggests limiting their use to items with odd shapes or bulk that will not fit into a gallon can. If the debris placed inside a plastic bag has sufficient sharp points or edges, the plastic bag could be punctured.
Regardless of the type of container used, time is your enemy. The longer the ignitable liquid has to evaporate before being sealed in an air-tight container, the greater the loss of volatiles which could affect identification of the ignitable liquid. Also, the container should never be filled more than seventy-five (75%) percent full, as the laboratory needs an adequate vapor space above the debris for testing (See the link to our "Evidence Submission Presentation" below).
Please note unlike other State of Florida Crime Laboratories, BFS has a rule under the Florida Administrative Code that describes the requirements for submitting evidence to the Bureau as well as the requirements for the return of the evidence (FAC 69D-5.001). The guide for submitting evidence can be found here: The Collection, Packaging, Submission & Analysis of Evidence.
Forensic evidence must be submitted to the Bureau either by hand delivery or via a certified carrier (United States Postal Service - certified mail only, Federal Express, United Parcel Service, etc.) Ensure a copy of the Evidence Submission form accompanies the evidence. (Evidence Submission Form DFS-K1-1096).
Please be aware that there are federal as well as company specific restrictions regarding the shipment of materials. Specifically, you must be aware that certain items must be listed as "dangerous goods" and thus have special labeling requirements. Other items may have an "excepted quantities" variation. It is entirely possible that you may ship an unknown material to us that, once we identify it, we cannot ship it back to you and we will have to arrange a transfer in person.
Forensic evidence submitted to the Bureau will be returned to all submitters. Evidence is returned only after the samples are tested and a report is transmitted. Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations (BFAI) evidence is transferred to their technician who will store it in the BFAI long-term storage areas within the facility. Should evidence be needed for court purposes, either the investigator or a court officer may request the evidence be shipped to them by contacting the BFAI Crime Laboratory Technician, Brittney Smith.
In addition, for specific requests regarding evidence receipt, shipping, or transfer please contact our Forensic Technologist or Chief Chasteen.
For additional information about how you can ensure your evidence is shipped correctly, please review our evidence submission presentation (PowerPoint presentation)
Film, flashcards, video tapes, compact disks, DVD's, etc. may be mailed to the Bureau, with a letter explaining the processing to be done. In some instances, limited numbers of images for processing may be submitted via e-mail (there is a limit as to the size of the files that can be effectively sent and downloaded). Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations investigators also have access to a shared virtual drive allowing a more convenient submission of images and image processing requests.