rev. 28.10.2004

General Equipment


  1. Preface
  2. Computer Equipment
  3. Evidence Preservation
  4. Lighting
  5. Measuring Equipment
  6. Photographic Equipment
  7. Telecommunication Equipment
  8. Tools
  9. Utilities

  1. Preface
  2. General equipment is regarded as absolutely necessary to perform a fire investigation. If you do not have this equipment available, you will probably run into severe difficulties at the first fire ground you try to investigate. This does not mean that you will need the equipment described here, but that you need at least some kind of it.
    A lot of the statements made herein result from experiencies made the hard way, may be they will help you to choose an easier way.

    It should not be concealed, that in many cases only the purchase of the devices described here is not sufficient for their sense-making operation. You should absolutely calculate a, sometimes considerable, amount of time for the training of a correct, secure, and effective operation of these devices.

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  3. Computer Equipment
  4. (Homer's comment)

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  5. Evidence Preservation

  6. Something that we could not solve fully to our satisfaction, as the best evidence container is probably an airtight closable metal can. But these metal cans eat up storage capacity in your car and if you need them finally you will possibly see that the ones you have on board are too small for the evidence you want to conserve. Some times you will need paper bags, sometimes plastic or nylon bags. These all should be kept in good and clean state.

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  7. Lighting
  8. On many locations you will need portable lighting, as on most fire scenes there is no electricity available. Even at daylight conditions you will find it useful to have a portable electric torch available. There are a lot of inexpensive products available on the market. Most of them are not adequete for the use in fire scenes as they are not waterproof, not robust enough and the bulbs and reflectors installed are of poor quality.

    Electric torches used by fire investigators will become dirty as their operators too, so there is sometimes a need of cleaning them both, investiators and torches. This makes it necessary that these devices are absolutely waterproof. Often they will get in hard contact to concrete, wooden or metal structures which makes a certain robustness highly desirable. Then there are their illuminating characteristics. These seem to be the highest challenge for most manufacturers as even in torches of a general good quality and adequate pricing you will generally find really poor illumination characteristics. Good illumination is charcaterized by equal brightness over the whole projection field. To achieve this a special reflector is needed. You may find these reflectors in video lighting equipment, but in general these are not waterproof nor are they robust enough.

    Torches of general good quality are made by MAG INSTRUMENT, Ontario, CA, USA, they meet all of our needs, except for the illumination characteristics which are only poor (for fire investigation purposes). We use several of them.

    The best item we found on the market comes from the finish manufacturer INSMAT ELEKTRO, Helsinki who produces a series of torches called MICA IL (former RK). Various types from 3 to 30 watts, some with controlable brightness (half and full), three different reflectors, and even two EX-protected versions are available and a version with power failure automatic, where the lamp is turned on if a power failure occurs. The most important disadvantage is, they are extremely expensive. We use an IL-60 equipped with controlable 20 watt bulb and a reflector no. 3 (flood), which gives a bright smooth flood light. As the endurance of this light source is limited to about 1.5 hours due to its high output power, the optional car charger unit is absolutely necessary, as the accumulator pack is not interchangeable on the fly. This charger unit is equipped with a low voltage protection for the car battery. A disadvantage of the charger unit is, that only standard and no rapid charging is available. Only minor changes have been made between the older RK and the newer IL series. As the german distributor was not able to send us pictures of the new IL series, here are pictures of the former RK series.

    The former ex-protected version RK-80. . . . . . The former standard RK50, both with charger.
    Mica RK80 EX Mica RK50

    Drawing of the RK series.
    Mica RK 80 drawing

    Meanwhile there are some facts to be added.

    The IL series use an electronic switch which has proven to be unreliable, as sometimes with a partial discharged accumulator, you're unable to turn the light back on. This may be fatal.

    Further the charge level control which was on the former models a small LED above the power switch, has been replaced by a periodical flashing of the main light, which is extremly nasty.

    The edges of the charger unit are very sharp, so that inserting and more dangerous removing the lamp from the charger may result in 'bloody fingers'.

    The low voltage wires of the charger do not look very 'rugged'.

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  9. Measuring Equipment

  10. Distance Measurement

    For the distance measurement you will at least need a yard-stick, a steel tape of 5 meters and a steel tape of 30 meters. A more sophisticated method will be described in the special equipment section.

    Electrical Measurement

    GMC MetraPort To be able to perform the basic electric measurements you will at least need some kind of multimeter. There are two different kinds of meters available. These are analogue and digital meters. Digital meters are actually more robust, more precise and cheaper as adequate analogue meters, but they are not well suited for the observation of continuous variable values. So it is recommended to have both kinds available. For analogue meters you should prefer those of the class 1.5 or 1.0. The class indicates the precision of the instrument where a class of 1.0 means an accuracy of 1.0% of the actual maxium scale value of the choosen metering scale. You should also have a look for a good overload protection. Practical all makes may be choosen, as long as they are made according to your national codes. Advanced electrical metering equipment will be shown in the special equipment section.

    Something has to be said here, depending on what and where you are going to perform electrical measurements, it may be a dangerous task. So, as long as you do not know exactly what you are going to do, don't do it, as otherwise you risk that this task is the last thing you're going to do.
    Supplementary electrical measurement is sometimes a bit tricky, and you should know when you will get errors on your measurement, what quantity and quality these errors have, how you can avoid or minimize errors. The explanation of all the possibilities is beyond the scope of this publication and you should read at least one, better more good books about measurement in general and electrical measurement in special.

    Temperature Measurement

    GMC Mavotherm 34 The higher the covered temperature range is, the better it is. Practically all makes offer a sufficient resolution, so only handling, design, robustness and price will be of importance. One exception are those infrared temperature sensors or complete infrared meters. They need a compact body emmitting thermal radiation, so with this kind of sensor, gas temperatures cannot be measured, while on the other hand you may perform contactless measurements to radiating surfaces.

    For general purposes we use a calibrated Gossen Mavotherm 34 which covers the temperature range from -200°C to + 1200°C, equipped with several different sensors. A built in lithium cell guarantees an operation time of nearly 10 years and a wide variety of different sensors is available for this instrument.

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  11. Photographic Equipment

  12. The Camera Body

    Minolta XD-7 To end up with pictures of good quality at an affordable price you will at the moment still need a 35-mm-camera. This will certainly change in the future when digital cameras will get a higher resolution and the prices for these systems lower to the level of SLR-brand-systems. For ease, precision and versatility of use it should be a single lens reflex (SLR) camera. The choice of the system should be considered as a long term decision, as quality products are quite expensive and have a long life time cycle. The new advanced photo system (APS) seems to me to be a dead end development, as before complete camera systems will be available, digital camera systems will be available at affordable costs with sufficient resolution and storage capacity.

    The requirements of a fire investigator for the selection of a system are quite equal to those that have professional photographers. Robustness, reliability, optical quality, availability of accessories, and long term product maintenance from the manufacturer.

    At the time the decision for our camera system was made, 1977, Minolta came up with the, at the time revolutionary XD-7, which offered the first time a body with both time and aperture exposure automatic. Supplementary this body offered a new focussing screen, which gave the brightest visor image available. As Minolta at that time offered a wide spectrum of professional lenses, some of them developed in cooperation with Leica, and equipment, the decision was made.

    The Lenses

    For the selection of lenses there are different citeria to look at. First there is the imaging quality. Low distortion, high resolution, minimum changes in color, maximum depth of field, all at highest aperture are desireable. Then there is the focal length of the lens. 50 mm is to be considered as a standard lens, as it approaches most to the natural human perspective. Lenses with focal lengths above this value are tele lenses, while those with values below 50 mm are wide angle lenses. Lenses with variable focal lengths are zoom lenses. Due to optic principles zoom lenses will always be a compromise in imaging qualities, so zoom lenses should only be the second choice or a supplement of the available equipment. Then there are the so called mirror lenses. These lenses are mainly used in the extreme tele range 250 to 1000 mm. These lenses are of minor importance for fire investigators, they have a fixed aperture which implies, that they have also a fixed depth of field. An inexpensive way to obtain long focal lengths. A set of four lenses, 28 mm as wide angle, 50 mm as standard, 135 mm as tele, and a 35 to 70 mm zoom should be sufficient to cover practical all on site situations. The the maximum aperture should be as high as possible. Attention, the relation between aperture number and aperture diameter is reciprocal. This means the smaller the aperture number, the larger the aperture. As the maximum aperture also depends on the focal length, there are differencies in what to look at as excellent, good, or standard for the different focal lengths. Some examples: 50 mm, 1.2 is excellent, 1.4 is good, 1.7 is standard. 28 and 135 mm, 2.0 is excellent, 2.8 is good, 4.0 is lower standard. 35 to 70 mm zoom, 2.0 to 2.8 is excellent, 2.8 to 3.5 is good, 3.5 to 4.0 is standard. Everything below standard is inacceptable. One thing to remember: The higher the maximum aperture, the brighter your visor image is, the shorter the exposure times are, and the shorter the depth of field is. By closing down the aperture you will enlarge the depth of field while the necessary exposure times will rise. The visor image is not affected as SLR cameras keep the aperture open on maximum until you relase the shutter. This way your are not able to control the actual depth of field, except your camera has a control switch, which makes it possible to close the aperture down to the adjusted operation value. By using this switch you will remark the visor image to darken and a rise in depth of field.

    Someting to look for is the filter mount, it should be equal on most of the lenses you use, as this way you have to buy the filters you need only once for all lenses, except for the UV-filter, as this this is a standard filter that could be used to protect the front of your expensive lenses, so in case of damage you only have to replace the much less expensive filter instead of the complete lens. So you should have a UV-filter for every lens and keep it always mounted to every lens. Remove it only if it is absolutely necessary. For example if shadowing of the edges of the picture appears. This will happen more often in the wide angle range than in the normal to tele range while using more than one filter.

    The Flashlight

    Metz MB 45 CT-1 The flashlight you use, should be as powerful as possible, as you will often photograph dark black objects within a dark and black environment. For versatility and robustness of use a rail mounted device should be choosen. The strength of a flashlight is discribed by the guide number. The higher the guide number, the stronger the flashlight is. The minimum guide number considered should be 40. With a guide number of 45 it should be possible to cover most situations. Guide numbers of 50 to 60 will give you more security, but they will have their own prices. Practical all electronic flashlights available on the market today have an automatic exposure measurement equipment. TTL exposure measurement adapters seem to be an unnescessary luxury, but are are today available as a standard for flashlights of these power classes.

    The Equipment we are using

    As camera body we use a Minolta XD-7, XM, and X-700. All use the Minolta MC/MD bajonet, no autofocus (AF) lenses may be attached to this bajonet. The one I prefer is the XD-7 from 1977 equipped with an XD-winder, simply the best camera body ever produced by Minolta. The XM was developed some time before the XD-7, this was a professional camera body for manual operation with interchangeable visor and some other features. The mirror could be fixed in shutter release position to minimize vibration at shutter operation. The X-700 equipped with a motor drive is Minoltas actual (1998) top model for the MD-bajonet. It was purchased to have a back up body, to be able to maintain the use of the MD-lenses in case of breakdown or loss of the older bodies. The quality of this body is disappointing, compared to the older ones. An extreme sensitivity to humidity was encountered. The ease of use of the XD-7 cannot be found on the X-700, and solid metals have been replaced by plastics or tissue. X-700: purchased in january 1996 last operation august 1997 due to an unrecoverable shutter blockade. This is from the endurance point of view absolutely unacceptable.

    As lenses we use an MD 2.8 28mm, MD 1.4 50mm, MD 2.8 85mm Varisoft, MD 2.8 135mm. All these lenses are of very good quality, they all have 55mm filter mount. The 85mm Varisoft is of no importance to fire investigation. Then we have an RF 8.0 500mm mirror lens which is also of no importance for fire investigation. The the MD 3.5-4.0 35-70mm zoom lens we also use, was purchased some time after the other equipment was purchased. It is of a very poor and dissappointing mechanical and imaging quality, but the only zoom of this range still offered for the MD bajonet by Minolta. This was certainly the last new lens we bought from Minolta, may be we will look for some used ones from the late 70's where they still produced superior quality.

    The flashlight we are using is an old Metz mecablitz CT 45-1 from 1978. It is still working to our full satisfaction without problems. This type of rail mounted flashlight is widely spread among a great number of professional photographers all around the world. It is available with guide numbers of 45 and 60 (45 CT and 60 CT) in different versions. The quality ist outstanding as the operation time of 20 years of our unit shows. A lot of supplementary equipment as for example a tele lens, a unit mountable reflector screen, a separate exposure control with variable measurement angle, or TTL-adapter is avaiilable for this type of flashlight.

    Today we would look for a camera equipment made by Nikon or Leica. Both produce high quality equipment, while Nikon uses more advanced technologies and Leica a more conservative technique with absolute quality control, as for example every single camera body is tested in all functions before delivery. (Today this has to be mentioned).

    More specialized photographic equipment and digital imaging will be discussed in the special equipment section.

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  13. Telecommunication Equipment

  14. Base

    At least you should have a telephone and a fax available at your office. Most of the following applies only to Europe or to be more precise to Germany as I'm only familiar to the situation in this country. For your telephone and fax you may choose between several solutions. Presumed you already have a telephone line, you may connect a telephone and fax combination to this line. This is probably the fastet and cheapest way to upgrade to fax capabilities and as as a surplus most of these combinations include also an answering machine. But there are some disadvantages build into this solution: While you're receiving or transmitting a fax you're unable to use your telephone. The fax machines integrated into these combinations are very simple and limited in their capabilities and most of them use thermosensitve fax paper which is not suitable for conservation of the documents received, therefore it seems strongly recommended to get a separate line for your fax and a machine which offers some comfort in operation and which produces its output on normal paper. The disadvantage of this solution is the certainly higher price for the basic equipment and supplemental you will have to pay for a second line. This, paying for a second line, offers you a new possibility. Instead of paying the bill for two analogue lines, you may get an ISDN line for nearly the same price. The ISDN line offers you via two wires two channels which may be used simultaneous and you will get three phone numbers which may be used in different ways. For example you may use one of these numbers as your buisness phone number, the second for your fax and the third as a private number or for a modem. The next advantage of ISDN comes up with data transfer, as ISDN offers higher transfer speeds and much more reliable connections as those via modems. Finally you may get more phone numbers if you need them, up to eight if necessary. So far for the basic needs.

    Practical all makes may be choosen, depending on your needs in operational comfort. But be aware of modern remote configurable switchboard systems, under certain conditions they may be used by hackers to perform phone calls on your bill, as far as they handle more than one phone line. (standard for ISDN systems)


    Alcatel 9109 DA As fire investigator you will be often outside your office, so a mobile phone would be an ideal extension to your communications equipment. For pan european use the GSM standard is recommended, this means for Germany the D-net sevices. If you live and work mostly in urban regions a handy may be a suitable solution, but if you live on the country side you should prefer a car mounted device as these usually have a higher transmitter output power (8 watts) compared to the 2 watts of a handy this will give you better connections even in difficult landscapes with lower coverage of relay stations as well as a car mounted aerial will result in higher sensitvity of your receiver. If you intend to purchase such devices, you should know that there are differencies between these devices even within a series of one single manufacturer. These differencies result from normal fabrication tolerances, but they may have an incredible impact on the performance of these devices. So if possible before you purchase your device you should test it's performance. Move it or if possible several units to a location of which you know that it has poor connection conditions, for example inside buildings, try to establish a connetion to the relay. Some will connect, others won't. Those which do connect, will only send an alive signal to the relay from time to time. Those wich are not able to establish a connection will constantly search for a relay, so the transmitter operates constantly and exhausts your power source, which results in greatly reduced standby times of the unit per charge while you're unable to use the phone.

    I use an old french ALCATEL 9109 DA car mounted unit from 1993, which is out of production for several years now, but it has an extemely high (military like) quality standard, operating problems in the past resulted only from the service providers card. Service for ALCATEL products is difficult to get in Germany, because they have outsourced their service. Whether this is a good practice from the customers point of view, is highly questionable.The hand held mobile phone I use is an Ericsson GH 337 which is also out of production now, but has an equal good quality standard. No problems occurred since 1994 and therefore no service experiences up to now. I avoid the use of the hand held mobile phone where ever it is possible, due to the possible health risks.

    Visual Telecommunication

    Visual telecommunication is in the evaluation state at our site. We will use the Siemens I-View equipment on an ISDN line via a PC. There are at the moment still some unresolved problems related to the ISDN version we are using and some mechanical problems related to availble cable lengths, but we are working on the solution. If further information is available and progress is made, we will enhance this section.

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  15. Tools
  16. Gedore Touring The worse things are, you have to work on, the better the tools must be to to reach your aims. So you should try to get a selction of high quality tools. Most of the low priced sets offered on the market are not suitable, as these tools regularly fail, if you need them most. So you should consider that high quality tools will cost you twice or even three times the price of that what is offered as good or industrial quality throughout most supermarkets. Supplementary you should look for a possibilty of storage and transportation of these tools that makes it easy to see if the set is complete, as it is an extraordinary easy task to loose or forget some of your expensive tools in fire places. Further big cable cutters for soft metals and medium bolt cutters for hard alloys and some insulated tools for work on hot electrical equipment are sometimes needed as well as a simple iron saw.

    Gedore logo Without exception we use Gedore tools, one of Germany's best manufacturers of tools, and these only from the highest quality range available from this manufacturer. Since 1970 we only had some minor losses due to tool failure with several hundred tools in use.

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  17. Utilities

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Ingenieurbüro Frank Markmann
Gottfried-Blum-Weg 4
D-88639 Wald

Phone: +49-(0)-7578-933141
Fax: (on request)

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Fire Investigation in Germany / webmaster / revised 28.10.2004