Fireworks are a staple in many summertime events and are, unfortunately, the cause of numerous injuries each year. We had the opportunity to gain insight from Acting Commanding Officer, Sergeant Paul Makuc, of the Connecticut State Police Fire & Explosion Investigation Unit on how to best avoid these accidents and how fire detectives can assist personal injury attorneys with their client’s cases.
What attracted you to detective work, how long have you been in the field, and what specialized training have you received?
I aspired to become a state trooper at a very young age. I joined my hometown, volunteer fire department when I was 14 years old and became interested in fire investigation after fighting several intentionally set fires and watching state police detectives investigate them and not only determine how they were set, but who set them. While in college, I interned with the Massachusetts State Police Fire & Explosion Investigation Section and was afforded specialized training in fire and explosion investigation. I joined the ranks of the Connecticut State Police in April 2000 and worked as a patrol trooper for over 5 years before becoming a detective in the Fire & Explosion Investigation Unit. I have received specialized training in all aspects of fire and explosion investigation, post-blast investigations, and fireworks and special effects. I was assigned as a detective in the Fire & Explosion Investigation Unit for just over 15 years. I also handled 2 Accelerant Detection Canines during my tenure; K-9 “Baxter” from 2008 – 2015, and K-9 “Cora” from 2015 – 2021. These canines were trained to detect the odor of ignitable liquids in fire scenes and worked hundreds of fire scenes. I recently was promoted to the rank of sergeant and am currently the Acting Commanding Officer of the Fire & Explosion Investigation Unit.
As a Fire & Explosion Unit Detective, what do you do and what types of cases do you investigate?
The Connecticut State Police Fire & Explosion Investigation Unit (CSP FEIU) investigates fires and explosions of accidental, natural, and intentional causes. Unfortunately, some of these incidents result in injuries and fatalities. Other investigations include fireworks accidents, and blasting and explosives incidents. The CSP FEIU is also responsible for the regulation, permitting, and enforcement of Fireworks, Special Effects, Blasting, Carnival Rides, and Circuses. The CSP FEIU provides training in all aspects of fire and explosion investigation to local, state, and federal authorities charged with these investigation duties. The CSP FEIU assists local municipalities with investigations and enforcement of these specialty areas.
What are the most common causes of fire and explosion accidents and what should people do if they find themselves in these situations?
The most common causes of fires continue to be unattended cooking and improper disposal of smoking materials. Both of these fire causes are highly preventable. Attentiveness to cooking and proper disposal of smoking materials is everyone’s responsibility.
What safety precautions can people take to avoid being injured in these types of accidents?
Installing and maintaining working smoke detectors can save lives. Additionally, carbon monoxide alarms and explosive gas alarms are also live-saving devices to install in our homes. I have all three types of devices in my own home, and I check them regularly to ensure they are working properly. Your life depends on them. If you are building a new home, consider installing a fire sprinkler system in your home. Lastly, keeping your exits free of obstructions and pre-planning and practicing fire escape plans with your family can help to prepare you should a fire occur in your home. Once you are out, stay out. I have investigated several fires where occupants have gotten out of the burning building safely, but gone back in to retrieve something; a wallet, a cell phone, keys, or a pet, and have not come back out.
What is the one thing that you would like to share with our readers about your years of experience in this type of work?
I have investigated over 1,600 fires. One thing that I have learned is that fires don’t discriminate.
Fires can occur anywhere, anytime. Be prepared. Life safety is first and foremost.
Ensure that your home has working smoke alarms and that you are always aware of your exits. Property loss is secondary. Ensure that you have adequate insurance coverage, including renter’s insurance. We find that many tenants do not carry a renter’s insurance policy. These policies are affordable and well worth the cost.
In what ways do you assist injury victims and/or their attorneys after a fire or explosion accident?
Our most valuable assistance to injured victims and their attorneys is to conduct thorough investigations in order to determine where and how the fire started or the explosion occurred and to determine responsibility. While it is not always possible to determine the exact origin and cause of fires and explosions, we do our best to eliminate as many potential causes of the fire as possible. The scenes are documented with photographs, video, and sketch maps. In most instances, witnesses are interviewed and their accounts are documented with written statements. The findings of the investigation are the recorded in written fire origin and cause reports.
During your time as a detective, what have you observed to be the most common causes of Fire & Explosion accidents and what can people do to avoid them?
As stated earlier, most fires are the result of unattended cooking and improper disposal of smoking materials. As a CSP FEIU detective, I investigated many of those fires. These fires can be avoided by attentiveness to cooking and proper disposal of smoking materials. Often times cigarette butts are disposed of in trash cans inside a residence, or outside on a deck or porch in the soil of a potted plant, or on the ground in mulch or dry leaves. Each of these environments are conducive for smoldering cigarette butts to ignite fires, especially when conditions are dry. Attentiveness to cooking and proper disposal of smoking materials is everyone’s responsibility.
Whether it is for the Fourth of July or a neighborhood cookout, many people get together during this time of year. Do you expect the number of firework-related accidents to increase now that people are hosting gatherings again?
Unfortunately, firework-related accidents, injuries, and fires always increase during the summer months, specifically in the days surrounding the July 4th holiday. This year will likely be no exception. Last year during the pandemic, Connecticut experienced an unprecedented era of the use of illegal fireworks across the state, from the smallest town to the largest city. Residents from nearly every community made complaints to their local law enforcement agencies, and in several instances, illegal fireworks were seized, and arrests were made. I responded to an incident where a juvenile female sustained facial injuries as a result of illegal fireworks being utilized by her father in the backyard of their residence. Over the years, I have investigated numerous illegal fireworks-related accidents resulting in serious injuries. I have investigated two fires that resulted from the improper use of Connecticut legal fireworks, namely sparklers and fountains. In 2007, an 18-month old child was killed in a house fire in the City of Meriden after his young cousins were using sparklers inside the residence. In 2014, a 21-year old female was killed in her residence in Southington when a family friend misused a fountain device that resulted in a fire in the apartment.
What advice would you give to people who intend on involving fireworks in their celebrations?
Leave the fireworks to the professionals and attend a licensed fireworks display. If you choose to use fireworks at home, please only use Connecticut legal sparklers and fountains. Only persons 16 years of age or older are permitted to use these items. Sparklers burn at temperatures that reach or exceed 1,200 degrees. Children should not handle these items because they could become easily burned, or catch their clothing on fire. Have a hose nearby and please carefully dispose of spent fireworks debris by soaking them in a bucket of water before placing them in the trash. Never mix alcohol and fireworks.
Pro Tip: Personal injury cases that involve significant injuries sometimes require the services of fire and explosion detectives and an injury attorney who can help in a variety of accident cases. Should you have any questions about your Connecticut accident case, please contact us.