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“Learn the step-by-step process of preforming an appliance fire investigation as an engineering expert”

By John D. Gaskell, Retired Consulting Engineer

Author of “The Complete Guide to FORENSIC ENGINEERING

Forensic engineering is defined by the National Academy of Forensic Engineers (NAFE) as “the application of the art and science of engineering in matters which are in, or may possibly relate to, the jurisprudence system, inclusive of alternative dispute resolution.” These engineers serve as consultants to the legal profession and as expert witnesses in courts of law.

Acceptance of Cases

Accept only cases in your field of expertise, but don’t necessarily limit them to your area of specialty. My cases as an electrical engineer included electrocutions, fires of suspected electrical origin, standard of care determinations, equipment failures, arc fault accidents, conveyor accidents, lightning strikes, and others. Yours will be different but also interesting and challenging.

Case – Water Dispenser Fire

A name-brand appliance dispensed both hot and cold water. There were several reports of fires. The manufacturer had done extensive testing and was unable to find the cause of the fires. One of the burnt units was sent to us for an appliance fire investigation including examination and testing. The unit was severely damaged, and we could not find the problem. We requested an “exemplar” (new unit of the exact type). We took it apart, examined it, and tested resistances and continuity; again, we came up with no solution. Then, my lead investigator read the manual word by word. One of the steps in the unpacking and setup procedures was to remove a plastic shipping plug. It was hard to find because it was made of the same yellow plastic material as the appliance. This plug prevented water from entering the heating compartment, thus causing the heating element to overheat the appliance. We then reexamined the burnt unit and discovered the burnt shipping plug. There are three important lessons here: ask for an exemplar, ask how long the damaged unit had been in operation, and, when all else fails, read the instructions.

Litigation consulting is interesting, challenging, and profitable. If appliance fire investigation interests you, I recommend adding “Forensic Engineering” to your practice as a consulting engineer.

Get Jack’s new book: The “Complete Guide” to FORENSIC ENGINEERING to learn the details. Also, the largest chapter in his book: The “Complete Guide” to CONSULTING ENGINEERING covers the “highlights” of Forensic Engineering. Visit to find out more.

Learn how to be a forensic engineer. Learn how to be a forensic expert witness. How to be an engineering expert witness. How to obtain training as a forensic engineer. How to obtain training as an engineering expert witness.