The job of an arson investigator is essential when it comes to determining the cause of any suspicious fire. Arson investigators may work for fire departments, law enforcement agencies, or even insurance companies. While most training was once done “on the job” the tides have since shifted towards more formal, academic training in investigative procedures and fire science. ForensicColleges.com has created this list of the top 13 arson investigation professors in the U.S., each of whom have proven themselves as talented investigators and educators. The majority of these professors have decades of experience working in fire management and investigation, in addition to extensive work with training and teaching. Keep reading for more information about these respected professors.
Gregory Gorbett works as an instructor in the fire degree program at Eastern Kentucky University. Having worked as both a firefighter and a fire and explosion analyst, he is well versed in the fieldwork necessary to become a successful fire investigator. Gorbett also has extensive academic credentials with two Bachelor of Science degrees, in Fire Science and Forensic Science, as well as two Master of Science degrees in Fire Protection Engineering and Executive Fire Management. In 2006, Gorbett was the recipient of the John Charles Wilson Scholarship from the International Association of Arson Investigators, a testament to his dedication to the field of arson investigation.
Having worked for more than 25 years as fire inspector in Milford, Connecticut, Bruce Varga has transitioned into his role as an educator. He now works as a lecturer at the University of New Haven, specializing in arson investigation technique. With a Master of Science degree in Fire Science from UNH, Varga helped to create a state-of-the-art fire investigation lab where students can safely practice fire investigation and observe fire devastation.
As an Illinois Certified Fire Officer and Training Program Manager, Samuel Giordano brings a great deal of real world experience into the classroom as a professor at Harper College. Giordano is the coordinator of Harper College's Fire Science and Emergency Management Program in addition to teaching within that school. He has spent over the three decades he has spent in the fire science field, including a Bachelor of Science in Firefighter Occupational Safety and Health and a Master of Science in Public Administration. During that time Giordano has also earned a number of certifications from the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal, including Fir Instructor III and Fire-Arson Investigation.
Dr. Matthew Hinds-Aldrich works as a full-time assistant professor in the Fire Science department at Anna Maria College. Having obtained a PhD from the University of Kent at Canterbury in the United Kingdom, Dr. Hinds-Aldrich returned to the U.S. to pursue his position as an educator. His doctoral research focused on arson investigation, specifically on the phenomenon of firefighter arsonists. In addition to his duties as an assistant professor, he is on the Board of Directors of the non-profit Fire 20/20, which aims to increase diversity in fire services.
Dr. Kathy Notarianni is the head of the Fire Protection Engineering department at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts. She received a Maser of Science degree in addition to her PhD from Carnegie Mellon University. As the department head, Dr. Notarianni oversees all fire protection engineering courses, including fire investigation courses with the goal of improving firefight response times and overall public safety.
Steven Bardwell has nearly 30 years of experience in fire management and emergency services along with a Bachelor of Science degree in Fire Administration, and Master of Science degree in Executive Fire Leadership. Bardwell currently utilizes this range of experience and education as a professor at Columbia Southern University along with his service as Instructor Chief at the Mississippi State Fire Academy. Bardwell is additionally a member in good standing with the National Society of Executive Fire Officers, the Mississippi Fire Chiefs Association, and the Mississippi Fire Fighters Association.
Lawrence Bennett is the program chair of the Fire Science and Emergency Management department at the University of Cincinnati. With a Bachelor of Arts degree from American University and a Juris Doctor from the Washington College of Law, he came to fire education in a less traditional manner. Still, Bennett teaches important fire investigation techniques, often focused on terrorism and of course the legal ramifications and considerations of fire management. Bennett is also a member of the National Fire Protection Association, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the National Fire Academy. He writes a Fire & EMS and Safety Law newsletter, which are archived on the school's online library. A January 2014 version of this newsletter even references a specific arson/insurance fraud case.
Dean Martin works as the Industrial and Specialized Training Coordinator at the University of Missouri - Columbia. In this position he oversees the Fire Cause Determination Training Program, among other courses. A seasoned firefighter who responded to the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, Martin now uses his skills in first response and fire management to teach. He is a certified fire investigator as well as a licensed paramedic, making his hands on skills invaluable to his students.
Harvie Cheshire is the Training Manager for the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service – Emergency Services Training Institute (TEEX ESTI). He assists in conducting the Fire and Arson Investigation Certification program at Brayton Fire training Field and Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. He also teaches Arson Investigation for the Department of Forensics and Entomology at Texas A&M and assists in coordination of Arson Investigation programs across the State of Texas within TEEX’s Extension Division and serve on the Texas Commission on Fire Protection AD HOC committee for Fire and Arson Investigation Certification.
He is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer's program through the U.S. Fire Administration's National Fire Academy as well as the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, Texas A&M University Fire Service Chief Executive Officer Program. He has thus far been able to use the knowledge gained in this training as well as in his extensive experience in fire service to develop and execute fire investigation training for a large portion of Texas firefighters.
Dr. Michael Larranaga is a professor as well as the department head of the US Department of Homeland Security Scholars Program at Oklahoma State University. He himself is a graduate of the OSU Fire Protection and Safety Technology program, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree, and then moved on to earn a Master of Science in Environmental Science from the University of Houston and a PhD in Industrial Engineering from Texas Tech University. He is also a graduate of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School.
Noah Ryder is a highly educated engineer with both a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degree in Fire Protection Engineering. He currently works as a Lecturer and Visiting Research Associate in the Department of Fire Protection Engineering at the University of Maryland. He employs his real world experience with is academic knowledge to teach students about fire and explosion investigation and reconstruction techniques. He is also dedicated to work in the private sector of fire and risk analysis.
Kevin May is a Fire Prevention Officer in the Longview Fire Department in Longview, Texas. He is currently using his experience in that position as well as his education to teach Advanced Fire Investigation at Kilgore College. His hands on experience gives him an advantageous perspective and offers his students a chance to learn about the real world implications of fire and arson investigation.
Dr. Frank Noonan is an associate professor in the Fire Protection Engineering Department at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He has Bachelor and Master of Science Degrees in addition to a PhD from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Dr. Noonan has published numerous academic studies about fire safety and risk management, making him well qualified to impart the specifics of fire and arson investigation to his students.
Specific criteria were considered in the creation of this list. While arson investigation is hardly a new field in and of itself, it has only been within the last decade that many formal educational settings have been created for this particular field of study. Up until this time, most arson investigators learned "on the job" in mentorship-like scenarios.
1. Reputable Fire Science Program
New developments in arson investigation have meant more academic programs in fire science, which often include courses in fire investigation. In order to find the top arson investigators in the U.S., it was necessary to look to these (sometimes fledgling) programs and also to some local training facilities. The top professors tend to work and teach in the top arson investigation programs.
2. Field Experience
The top arson investigation professors are also those that have not only classroom experience, but also hands on experience investigating fires and/or explosions. In fact, many of the professors on this list have worked in city fire departments and other fire response positions for decades. Where possible, professors were chose who are also department heads or otherwise involved in the creation of fire education curriculum.
3. Arson Investigation Research
Priority was also given to professors who have contributed to research in the field of arson investigation, as well as to those who have been awarded for their dedication to the field. Finally, every attempt was made to include those professors and investigators who have worked to elevate the job of arson investigator to one that is science and fact-based.