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APRIL 7-12 2024


Building Confidence in Origin & Cause Determinations

Wednesday, April 10, 2024 (1:20pm - 5:00pm) (Celebrity 6-8)

Fire investigators, especially new investigators, often struggle to become confident in rendering origin and cause determinations. Uncertainties are common and “absolute certainty” rarely, if ever, occurs in the practice of evaluating a past event, such as a fire, where needed data may be hidden, missing or lost. Investigators often find themselves questioning their abilities, their final hypotheses and are concerned about “what NFPA 921 says” or what a counter-expert will say. This doubt may result in a fear to make a determination, even though sufficient data exists to make a science based, valid, and defensible origin and cause determination. Through discussions regarding education, experience and mentoring, the presenters will provide attendees with experience based, practical tips for building an investigator’s confidence in his/her scene examinations and origin and cause determinations. The presentation will also provide seasoned investigators with tips to bolster their own confidence and assist in mentoring newer investigators as they work toward developing their own self-confidence.


Steven J. Avato

Steven J. Avato is a retired Captain who was with the Loudoun County (VA) Fire Marshal’s Office from 2016 until 2022. Prior to his employment with Loudoun County, Avato was employed by the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from May 1989 until his retirement in 2016. During that time, he served in numerous fire and explosion related specialty positions including ATF Division Chief at the National Explosives Task Force (NETF), Resident Agent in Charge (RAC) of the Falls Church I (Arson / Explosives) Field Office (2005 – 2013) Certified Fire Investigator Training Manager (Arson and Explosives Division), National Response Team (NRT) Supervisor and the National Response Team Program Manager. Mr. Avato was an ATF Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) and an ATF Certified Explosives Specialist (CES) investigating incidents in Southeastern Pennsylvania while assigned to the Philadelphia Arson Task Force and in Southern New Jersey while assigned to the Trenton (NJ) Field Office.

Mr. Avato is currently an International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) Certified Fire Investigator. In 2000, he was honored by the IAAI as Investigator of the Year in recognition of his involvement in the investigation of a double fatal fire in Southeastern Pennsylvania.


William “Bud” Herndon

Captain William "Bud" Herndon is an IAAI-CFI, Bomb Technician and ATF Detection Canine Handler supervising a group of investigators in the Loudoun County (VA) Fire Marshal's Office. He has over 20 years of fire investigation experience in both the public and private sector. Captain Herndon has a BS from Eastern Kentucky University in Fire and Safety Engineering Technology and an MS in Executive Fire Service Leadership from Grand Canyon University.

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