The Florida Division of State Fire Marshal established its forensic laboratory in the early 1970's. Prior to 1990, the laboratory was located in Ocala, FL with the State Fire Marshal's Bureau of Fire Standards and Training. In 1990, the old laboratory was replaced with a new 12,000 square foot facility (containing laboratory, office and conference rooms), additional personnel, and updated equipment. The facility is located outside of Tallahassee, Florida, on the grounds of the Florida Public Safety Institute. On July 1st 2016, the Bureau became part of the Division of Investigative & Forensic Services.
The Bureau currently has a staff of nine full-time and one part-time employee with in excess of 135 years experience in forensic analyses. The Chemistry Section consists of four Crime Laboratory Analysts (two are Senior Crime Laboratory Analysts and two are Crime Laboratory Analysts). The Imaging Section consists of one Crime Laboratory Analyst and one Forensic Technologist. Administration and Operations consists of the Chief of Forensic Services who oversees the entire Bureau, one Administrative Assistant who processes public records requests, one Maintenance Superintendent who ensures the repair and upkeep of the facility, and one part-time OPS receptionist who provides additional administrative support.
The Bureau has incorporated national standards into its analytical protocols, continually seeks training for its personnel, and improves its analytical instrumentation. The Bureau also is accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board - International.
Our staff contribute to the field of forensic science through involvement in organizations such as:
the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA), the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD), the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), the Technical and Scientific Working Group on Fire and Explosions (T/SWGFEX), and the Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) which was created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Department of Justice to promulgate national consensus standards for forensic science.
Bureau Chief Carl Chasteen served as the Chair of T/SWGFEX from its inception through 2004. He was selected as T/SWGFEX Vice-Chair in 2008. He also served as Chair of the IAAI Forensic Science Committee for many years between 1993 and 2007. Chief Chasteen has also been a Fellow of the American Board of Criminalistics in Fire Debris since 2008. He is currently an appointee to the Organization of Scientific Area Committees Chemistry and Instrumental Analysis oversight committee.
Lastly, bureau personnel have been encouraged to attend professional symposia, when time and budget will allow, where they network with other forensic professionals. Personnel have, on various occasions, prepared and presented seminars, workshops, and scientific posters at many of these events. Bureau personnel have also written scientific articles published in international forensic/scientific publications as well as chapters of books on various forensic science topics.
In addition to participating in professional organizations, we also help train the next generation of forensic technicians through our internship program. To learn more about our internship program, click here.
Our goal is to provide timely and credible forensic analysis of evidence. The Chemistry Section achieves this objective through its analysis of:
• Fire debris to determine the presence and identity of any ignitable liquids
• Explosives debris and residues to identify chemical components of the explosives
• Non-drug chemicals recovered from clandestine laboratories
Our work is technically complex and difficult. That’s because we work to find evidence that you cannot see or smell. Sometimes the chemicals we are looking for are almost the same as the ones that should be associated with the sample. We work to determine what is extra. We look for trace compounds, which indicate the presence of an ignitable liquid that can turn a suspicious fire into an arson case.
In the calendar year from January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016 the Bureau performed 5,977 requests for chemical analyses of ignitable liquids, explosives, and hazardous chemicals.
The sources of that from our last complete customer survey were:
• 85.41% came from our Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations
• 12.66% came from local fire departments
• 1.39% came from Sheriff’s Offices
• 0.47% came from police departments
Note: Laboratory services are provided to all law enforcement or fire department submitters operating in the State of Florida without cost. Analysts will be made available for expert testimony provided a proper subpoena is presented.
The Bureau offers a variety of imaging services in its digital darkroom including enhancement of still images, special image filtering and creating still images from video footage. In addition to processing images we place our images into a centralized archive storage and potential future use. We processed over 236,350 images from 3,012 cases from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017.
The Bureau provided traditional chemical photographic processing from 1990 through 2007. The Bureau phased out its ability to process 35mm film and transitioned entirely to digital images. However, the Bureau continues to archive pre-2007 35mm film for BFAI investigators.
The Bureau of Forensic Services has nine full-time employees with only four analysts assigned to the examination of fire debris, explosives, or unknown chemical trace evidence. The Bureau processed fire debris, explosives, or unknown chemical requests requiring 7,522 separate chemical analyses in 2015. Typically, cases are assigned for analysis on the day they are submitted. The Bureau has achieved an average turnaround time for sample analysis of 7.8 days with virtually no backlog.
In contrast, the Project Foresight initiative run by West Virginia University examines various statistics provided to it by multiple forensic laboratories across the country. Fire debris, explosives, and chemical analyses are usually considered a part of the “trace” evidence field which can also include analyses of paint, glass, fibers, hair, etc… Project Foresight does not differentiate between the sub-trace disciplines and reported that in August 2015, the Median Turnaround time from the receipt of the last item of evidence to the report being issued was 67 days (Table 19).
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