Tarrant County Fire & Arson

Investigator's Association

...we must never surrender to the crime of Arson !!!

The History of the Tarrant County Fire and Arson

Investigators Association



The genesis of the association began when certain events had taken place that caused several area fire chiefs and fire marshals to come together to review the future status of the county’s fire investigation abilities. That catalyst was the termination of Mason Lankford, then, the county’s first paid Fire Marshal. Mason Lankford had served in that capacity on a volunteer basis for many year, in early 1972, Mason Lankford became the first paid Fire Marshal for Tarrant County. During the fall of 1975 County Judge Mike Moncrief had a difference of opinion with Mason Lankford regarding the future direction of the county fire marshal’s office. As a result Mason’s services as fire marshal were abruptly terminated. Then at the commissioners court request the position of county fire marshal was left vacant until they had time to review the office and determine what they wanted to do with the fire marshal position. However to keep and maintain the daily operations of the office, Fire Chief Bill Davis from Haltom City was appointed as the Temporary County Fire Marshal. Chief Davis in turn deputized several area fire marshals to assist him with the responsibility of conducting any county fire investigations. David Rainey from Haltom City, Ron Hawthorne from Bedford, Michael Logan from Euless, and Bill Powers from Grapevine were deputized by Chief Davis to carry out this responsibility. 


In the spring of 1975 the commissioner’s court named Bob Looney as the Tarrant County Fire Marshal. Bob Looney, a Mansfield volunteer fire marshal, had served as Mason’s assistant county fire marshal for several years. Mr. Looney was faced with the up hill task of formulating an official county fire marshal’s office. The Tarrant County Firefighters Association had been an instrumental force in helping to establish the fire marshal’s office as an official paid position within the county. However the leadership of the firefighters association was composed mostly of area fire chiefs, both paid and volunteer, and their organizational goals and objectives did not include a priority for fire and arson investigations.  As we all now know the crime of arson was beginning to peak nationally and a change was beginning to take place within the fire service involving the strategy and techniques of conducting fire investigations. National crime statistics were showing an alarming trend towards intentional fire setting for purposes of insurance fraud, retaliation, riots and juvenile delinquency. Various fire marshals throughout the county had already formed, if you will, some mini task forces within their regional areas of the county. These investigators assisted each other in conducting and reviewing fire evidence, sketching and photographing fire scenes, and conducting field interviews of witnesses. Bob Looney realized that his office needed manpower help in the area of fire investigations, and the commissioner’s court was reluctant to expand his office with additional personnel at that time.


As the Tarrant County Fire Marshal he called a meeting of the area city fire marshals in an effort to discuss and formulate a plan of action for combining investigative resources throughout the entire county.  The outcome of those meetings was the formulation and establishment of the Tarrant County Fire and Arson Investigators Association.  Bedford Fire Marshal Ron Hawthorne drafted the original constitution and by-laws of the association and the first officers nominated by the charter membership were DFW Airport Fire Marshal, Billy Swan as President, Euless Fire Marshal, Michael Logan, as Vice-President and Grapevine Fire Marshal, Bill Powers, as Secretary-Treasure. The by-laws were officially adopted December 20, 1976 by the charter members.


The association has had a very spirited history since its formulation. Although its initial purpose was to combine personnel and resources to investigate suspicious and high profile fire scenes, the organization’s mission was expanded to fight the crime of arson. Today the mission of the organization includes continuing education and training to maintain quality and up to date knowledge of fire scene investigation technology. The organization entered the political arena in 1996 to lobby for some changes to the Texas Penal Code regarding arson and explosive devices. After six (6) years and three (3) sessions of the Texas Legislator, Senator Jane Nelson and State Representative Glenn Lewis was able to introduce and pass the bills necessary to make some very needed and timely changes to the Texas Penal Code. These changes to the law were directed to the crime of arson as a first-degree felony by re-defining the definition of arson from just a place of habitation and places of worship, but to all assembly use.  The Bill also established a new definition of what constitutes the makeup of an incendiary and or explosive device. Another change to the law addressed nuisance fires in educational facilities by making it a State Jail Felony if the loss was within certain dollar limits.  These changes have proved very helpful in reducing the number of suspicious fire incidents throughout the state. A more recent addition to the association’s mission was the formulation of a scholarship program to assist the children of active or retired fire and arson investigators in the educational pursuit of a degree in this profession.


The organizations Constitution and by-laws were re-written and re-adopted once, in 1980 and then revised in part, twice since the original adoption in 1976. Some of the changes expanded the list of officers and their duties and responsibilities to the organization. Another change was to allow for lifetime membership of retired members. Another change included rules for the formal formulation of the arson task force and the purchase and collective use of its vehicles and equipment. 


In1990 the association took possession of their first arson task force vehicle. The city of Crowley donated a step-side van to be outfitted and equipped for the use as an investigative command post for on the scene investigations.  Fire Marshal Jim McDonald was instrumental in providing the van, which was donated, to the Crowley Fire Department by the Fort Worth Star Telegram newspaper.  The vehicle was stored in the old Bedford fire station as members donated their time and talents refurbishing the van into a workable command vehicle. The vehicle received statewide recognition through an article published by the Texas Chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI). It was also placed on display at the Annual Arson Conference in Austin, Texas in March of 1992. In the year 2002 an enclosed trailer was purchased by the Association to be used as a mobile equipment unit. It was also outfitted and equipped to conduct field interviews and provide for sanitary evidence collection of suspicious or high profile fire scenes.  Both of these vehicles have been strategically placed in the county for rapid deployment when needed.  At the regular meeting of the association in April 2005, the membership approved by vote to purchase a second trailer. This trailer was to be larger than the first to accommodate a field interview room. Doug Tyson was directed to make the purchase and oversee the interior design of the trailer. The membership also voted to retire the van and return it to the Crowley Fire Department. All the equipment and the roof mounted air conditioning unit was to be removed and placed with the new trailer.

 

The association has a membership composed of personnel from various government entities, city, county, state and federal and from various private organizations also interested in the mission of the organization. The membership includes investigators from Tarrant, Dallas, Denton, Johnson, Hood and Parker County’s. In recent years the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office has recognized our associations efforts and has assigned one of its Assistant DA’s to be an exclusive intake officer for arson and explosive offenses.  That cooperation has been a positive factor in helping to develop well-documented arson cases. The works and efforts of the organization have been well documented and recognized throughout the State of Texas, and in some instances recognized nationally. The membership takes pride in what has been accomplished through their collective efforts since its inception.   


The year 2006 was marked as the association’s 30th anniversary.  As with any organization the membership controls its own destiny. The organization can blossom with energy and enthusiasm or it can wither away with discontent and apathy. Hopefully the TCFAIA can and will maintain that desire to be a pro-active organization. That is being one, which is constantly vigilant of its mission and influence throughout the north Texas area.  


Local statistics show that our efforts have made a positive difference towards defeating the criminal elements associated with the crime of arson.  We must continue those efforts. We must never surrender.