Mar 22, 2021
Jamie McAllister is a fire protection engineer with a wide variety of professional certifications and extremely professionally qualified. Triple threat is an understatement with a P.E., a Ph.D., a C.F.I and a CSP, I have rarely spoken with an individual with this level of credentials. In this episode we talk about Jamie McAllister’s career, forensic toxicology and professional development. If you are interested in insight from someone who is a case study in hard work and professional achievement tune in on this episode of Fire Code Tech.
Would you explain a little bit about your origin? 2:13
How did your experience in the fire service inform your time at Maryland’s FPE program? 6:11
Would you speak about your first several roles as a professional? 8:20
What is the work and services that FireTox is involved in? 28:07
Do you have advice for networking and maintaining connections in your varied career pursuits? 37:00
Would you speak about the different teaching roles you have maintained during your career? 40:28
Do you have a project or a specific case in your career that was impactful? 44:06
Would you speak about a trend you see in the fire and life safety industry? 50:13
What resources would you recommend to professional? 56:06
Episode 25 - Jamie McAllister
Hello, all welcome to the show. I'm Gus Gagliardi, and this is fire code tech on fire code tech. We interview fire protection professionals from all different careers and backgrounds in order to provide insight and a resource for those in the field. My goal is to help you become a more informed fire protection.
Professional fire code tech has interviews with engineers and researchers, fire marshals, and insurance professionals, and highlights topics like codes and standards, engineering systems, professional development, and trending topics in the industry. So if you're someone who wants to know more about fire protection or the fascinating stories of those who are in the field, you're in the right place.
Welcome to episode 25 of fire code tech. On today's episode, we have Jamie MC. Jamie McAllister is a fire protection engineer with a variety of professional credentials. She's a PE a PhD CFI and a CSP. That's pretty remarkable. On today's episode, we talk about Jamie's career and some of the various roles that she's held.
We get in depth on toxicology and her, uh, long standing work in forensics. Jamie has some really great, um, professional development advice. Uh, we talk about how to evaluate work life balance and how she has taken stock of her career at certain points. Jamie gives some fascinating stories throughout her career and how she has been able to make an impact as a fire and life safety, professional.
Hope you enjoyed the episode. If you like it, please like subscribe and share. If you feel so inclined, also check us out on social media and follow us so you can see all the interesting topics that we post about. Let's dive into the. Well, hello, Jamie, welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for coming on.
Absolutely. Thank you for having me. Awesome. Well, I wanted to get started with a little bit about your background and how you found yourself in fire and life safety. Sure. Well, I attribute my introduction to fire and life safety, um, to when I joined the volunteer fire service when I was 17, um, it was the summer between my junior and senior year of high school.
And part of what we had to do in preparing for, uh, senior year was to pick a community service project that we were gonna perform. And it just so happened that that summer I was working about a block away at a coffee house, and it was about a block away from, from a fire station. And I would see the guys go by on the trucks and on the engines and.
They would come in and we would talk and, and it really just sparked my interest. It was something that I thought was really intriguing and, um, I had always kind of grown up. uh, I guess a little bit as a tomboy, I grew up working a lot with my dad on construction sites, um, and, um, helping build our family home.
So I was always somebody that was kind of intrigued and interested in getting my hands dirty. And I thought that, you know, that would be. A great opportunity for me to pursue being a volunteer firefighter as my community service project. Um, shortly after joining, I knew that I had made the right decision.
I immediately fell in love with everything that the fire service was about. And I really became interested in pursuing a career, uh, as a firefighter, but. I knew that my parents were going to want me to go to college. And, uh, I knew that I needed to try to find a way to merge together that interest I had in fire safety and fire science in some way into a degree program.
And I was at the firehouse one day trying to figure this all out. And make those hard life decisions that we have to make in our early years. Um, as we're trying to figure out where to go with our, our lives and our careers and my deputy fire chief just happened to mention to me about a program that he had heard about at the university of Maryland.
and, uh, he said, you know, it, it sounds really cool. You get to learn about fire and fire safety, and you can even live at a firehouse if you want to, while you're going to school. And I immediately knew that that was the, my path. I knew that that was something that I wanted to pursue and find out more about.
And. Uh, started to put all of the gears in motion to go to university of Maryland and to get into the fire protection engineering program there. And that's really where my, where my career started in fire and life safety. That's awesome. That's a really neat story about how you kind of serendipitously found your way into, you know, first the fire service and then.
You know, the, one of the, I mean, most premier fire and life safety degrees in the country. I mean, what a great program to stumble into, but, uh, that's great. So yeah, I mean, that's interesting. So what did you think of your time at, um, Maryland after you, you know, kind of had some experience in the fire service.
Yeah. Like, did you have some, what classes did you think were kind of fascinating since you already did kind of have that, uh, precursor to your time in school? Yeah. Well, I mean, what I thought was the most amazing part of, of the program. Um, and, and I don't know if this process still exists now, but at the time that I was in Maryland, um, there was a program run through the state that allowed.
To do full tuition reimbursement in exchange for volunteer fire service time. So I was able to get a degree in engineering, um, in a major that I loved, uh, in exchange for doing something that I also loved, which was being a part of volunteer fire service. So when I moved to Maryland, I joined, uh, department in prince George's county.
And I did my volunteer fire service time as I was going through my degree program. And I think, you know, I, I really loved every class that I took at university of Maryland. I think there was something interesting to take away from everything we learned, but the things that probably I would say were my favorites, um, with regards to the courses that we took, there would be fire dynamics.
He transfer. I really found the laboratory class interesting, um, being able to burn things and, you know, see how the fire evolved and developed and the types of things that were being produced as the fire evolved and developed and the different types of standardized test methods that are used to assess.
Materials and their flammability, all of that, you know, I think was, was most interesting to me in the program. Awesome. Yeah. I love hearing about that. Uh, I wanted to inquire about, you know, what were some of your, you know, initial roles in fire and life safety after your time at the university of me? So I started, uh, doing internships while I was still in my bachelor's program.
It was one of the things that the university encouraged. And I think it was an incredibly valuable experience for me because it allowed me to get out there. and see what types of, of roles are available within my profession, because one of the great things about fire protection engineering is there are so many different things that you can do with your degree.
So I did, you know, design internships where I was designing fire alarm systems and sprinkler systems and doing. Life safety assessments, things that I would would categorize as more traditional fire protection engineering. And in my, towards the end of my senior year. I also did a, um, internship for, well, I was a student intern with one of the professors in the university where I was doing laboratory experiments, um, and fire testing, and using the cone.
Imeter. And that was really cool to me. I really found that to be interesting. I liked working in the laboratory environment and then I went on to do an internship at a company called combustion science and engineering. And that was where I was first introduced into fire investigation. And, uh, I, I immediately, you know, was attached to it.
I thought it was the coolest thing. Being able to go out and dissect a fire scene and put all the pieces together and use all of the various different. Aspects of what I had learned in my program in fire protection engineering, to be able to understand not only how the fire started, what caused it, um, but also what led to the loss involved in the fire, whether it be, uh, a fire death or the property loss and.
Understanding how code deficiencies or lacks a lack of fire protection systems perhaps led to the extensive amount of loss that occurred in any particular incident. Um, and that's, that's really kind of where I started my. Role in, in fire investigation. Uh, while I was working as a fire investigator full time, I went back and I did my master's degree in fire protection engineering.
And, um, I focused most of my research at that time was focused on electrically initiated fires because they were so prevalent and so common, but there was a lot left to be known and understood about. Electrically initiated fires. Um, and the fire investigation community, you know, needed more information about that.
So I focused my research in those areas. Um, and then a few years after that, I decided that I wanted to get my doctoral degree. And initially I thought I was gonna go into electrical engineering. I, I wanted to kind of mix things up a little bit. Um, play off of my fire protection engineering degrees, but do something a little bit different.
so I looked into electrical engineering. I, um, at one point I looked into mechanical engineering, which is a common, uh, doctoral degree path that fire protection engineers go. And I decided that at the end of the day, I didn't wanna do another engineering degree because I wanted to be even more diversified.
I wanted to do something even more different and, and unique. Um, One of the things that I was doing as a fire investigator was routinely investigating fire deaths and injuries and unique to the company that I was working for at the time was that they really felt it was important when we were investigating these incidents to not just look at the fire data, but to also look at the autopsy data.
and to try to connect the dots and, and understand what the victim was being exposed to within the fire. So what kinds of things we would find within their blood that was measured at autopsy? What kind of burn injuries they had to their skin and what that all meant in the context of the type of fire they were exposed to and using all of that data to better.
Understand the origin and cause of the fire. And it was that kind of work specifically that that really intrigued me and was really interesting. So I decided that I wanted to actually go and get my doctoral degree. In forensic toxicology, because I wanted to understand more about the aspects of why people were dying in fires to understand more about fire toxicity and what's being produced in the fire and how it impacts our occupants and their ability to safely escape.
And that was what led me to. Go into, um, that degree program. So I, I actually did that while I was working full time. Um, continued on to get my doctoral degree. And I was at the height of my career. Uh, at that time I, I had crafted my degree programs about, you know, around the things that I found most interesting in the fire investigation world.
And. At the same time though, I was starting to enter into a period in my life where I was thinking about having children. Um, my husband and I felt like we were ready to start that next chapter. And it really, you know, was something that I, I had to try to balance because being a fire investigator and working in forensics, we don't know when fires are going to happen.
We can't predict. When we're gonna get a call to go on and do an investigation. Sometimes we can't predict how long we're gonna be on a scene. And when we get called to trial as an expert to testify in these investigation cases, we sometimes don't know how long we're gonna be there, um, or when we're even gonna testify.
So it occurred to me that it was gonna be very challenging. To manage a highly uncertain schedule, um, and raise children. And my husband is, is a career, uh, firefighter. So he is gone for long hours. So it was something where I really had to take a hard look at where I was going in my career and how I could continue to do what I loved or some version of it, but have a more stable.
Schedule. And that was what led me to decide to take a position at national Institute of standards and technology. Um, an opportunity arose and, uh, through a good friend who had, uh, told me about an opening there. And it was not something that I, you know, had ever thought I was gonna do. I had. At that point in my career, I thought that I was going to, was gonna stay in the fire investigation profession forever.
And I had crafted all my degrees around doing so. So it was a really hard decision to decide to kind of change paths and, and change course in, in the middle of my career. Um, and. When I thought about N um, you know, in the fire protection engineering program, we learn about N we learn about the building fire research lab and all the great work that the engineering laboratory does.
And I had always thought if I ever ended up there, I would end up there as a researcher, but this position, this opportunity that I had to go there was actually working for the office of safety, health, and environ. And I would be working as a fire protection engineer, doing what I call traditional fire protection engineering, where I would be, uh, working on, uh, assisting with buildings that were being constructed and making sure they were being constructed per code and, and really kind of working more in the role.
A code official and somebody who was working to ensure that the laboratories act activities conducted in this were being done in a safe way. And it was so different than what I had ever planned to do. So when I took the position, I entered into it really feeling like. I was going to do this for my family.
I was sacrificing, uh, what I had always planned to do to, but, but that, this was what I had to do at the time. And I was very pleasantly surprised, um, at what I learned when I entered the door as a nest, because what I hadn't appreciated. Was that N is such a unique place. And the laboratory activities that are conducted at NIST on a daily basis are run the gamut of all sorts of hazards that I had never even really had familiarity with.
I had never been introduced to in my previous experience. So while I thought I was kind of entering into this mundane world, um, I very immediately realized I was, I was wrong and on a regular basis, I would get exposure to all sorts of NFPA codes that I had never even opened, never even knew existed. Um, whether it be learning about hydrogen technology or gas turbines.
Or they'll, you know, doing more NFPA 30 and 55 related work and particularly NFPA 45 laboratory safety code. These were all things that I had not had a tremendous amount of exposure to, but I became very familiar with. So I was incredibly grateful for that experience because what it allowed me to do was become.
A very well rounded fire protection engineer. I got an opportunity to experience really all aspects of my profession and realize how cool all aspects of my profession are. And they all kind of feed back into one another as well. What I was doing at N working as a fire protection engineer on the prevention side of the.
And what I did as an investigator, seeing what happens when we don't do things the right way, you know, that knowledge of understanding what happens when, when we don't do things the right way, that feeds into a better understanding of how to prevent things from happening and being on the prevention side and being familiar with the codes and compliance requirements.
Um, and working as an authority, having jurisdiction allowed me to have a, an intimate knowledge of the international building code, the international fire code, um, and a, and a whole array of NFPA codes that gave me the knowledge that I needed as a fire investigator to really understand what kind of code deficiencies might be present when I was going out to these scenes now.
I didn't completely leave fire investigation when I left, when I went to N um, because I just couldn't, my, my heart was still there. So what I was able to work out was that I still continued to have outside employment outside of N. Um, and I was still working part-time as a fire investigator, um, with the company that I had had left.
To go to N for, and it was really perfect because I kept being able to do one of the things that I really loved. Um, but it was under my terms and. It was, you know, I could take cases as I was able to, um, if it didn't work with my schedule, then it didn't work with my schedule. And then on a full-time basis, I had the stability associated with my position at nest and that was working wonderfully.
It was working great. Um, but I was working a lot of hours. . And while I had the schedule stability working, all of the hours I was working was still proving to be a little bit of a challenge for me in my personal life. And one of the things that I, that I liked to do, um, is I like to do what I call hit the pause button sometimes.
And I like to do a personal assessment. Of where I'm at in my career, in my personal life, whatever the case may be. I think it's something that everybody should do every once in a while to make sure that they're headed in the right path and they're headed down the right track because it's very easy for us to get caught up in the every day.
Minutia of what we do and to just continue doing what we do and heading down a path and a lot of times fulfilling goals that other people have set for us, but not necessarily goals that we actually set for ourselves. And, you know, I was kind of thinking one day I said, Hey, you know, I'm gonna hit the pause button and I'm gonna think about.
where I'm at in my career and where I see myself in five years, 10 years, whatever the case may be. Am I here? Am I where I'm at now in five years? Is this where I wanna be? Is this what I wanna be doing? Do I wanna be working as many hours as I'm working? And I realized the answer was no, that, that, wasn't what I wanted to do.
As much as I loved what I was doing. Um, I wanted to be able to get a little bit more control over my life and my schedule again, and to work less hours, but continue to do all of these things that I loved. Um, and that was what led me to fire talks and the company that, that I now own and, and have created.
And. The idea behind the development of that company was that I would be able to take all of these things that I loved about my profession, the traditional aspects of fire protection engineering, the research aspects, the investigation aspects, and even the training of people. And I would be able to take all of this stuff that I loved, and I would be able to have it in one place under one umbrella that I controlled.
and that was how, um, it came about to start my company fire talk, man. Well, uh, first off that's a lot to unpack and man, I really enjoyed that. And I just wanna say your work ethic is, uh, outrageous. I can't believe all the things that you've, um, accomplished all those degrees while working full. That is just incredible.
Um, and then, you know, uh, there's a lot of things that I, I really loved about, um, your career and just stuff that I'd love to dive deeper into, but yeah, I really liked what you were talking about with the laboratory fire protection and some of those different unique hazards. With your time at N uh, I think that, you know, that's one of those unique occupancies that has a lot of nuance and a lot of, uh, is not so, um, Blatant in the code on, uh, best practices and applications.
And so leaning on those more obscure NFPAs is something that I'd definitely love to hear more about from you, but yeah, also, yeah, I don't know. There's a lot of things that, a lot of good points in there, but yeah, just trying to, yeah, that wasn't, uh, very cohesive response, but wonderful. You talked about a lot of good like professional and interpersonal things as well in that, um, first question.
And so I think there's a lot of points there that I think many people would resonate with. Like, you know, the note about, um, trying to balance, um, You know, work aspirations and goals and career, you know, kind of milestones, as you know, in, along with having a family. And then, you know, just that work life balancing is so difficult.
And for somebody who has, uh, you know, had so many unique and really neat roles and fire and life safety, I, uh, yeah, that's, that's great to hear about, um, As far as like, uh, the next question I wanted to talk a little bit more about, I know you kind of gave us your introduction and kind of how you cut your teeth in and fire an investigation and, you know, uh, found your passion for it.
Um, I have a lot of interest in fire investigation cuz uh, I'm a fire protection on the design. By by my career. So yeah, I just wanted to dive a little bit deeper into, you know, this very, uh, you know, fire protection is already very niche. So I just wanted to hear a little bit more about your role as a forensic toxicologist and kind of, you know, unpack what that looks like on a daily or weekly basis, uh, from your perspective.
Okay. Do you want me to talk a little bit about fire talks as far as, you know, the role that I play as a forensic tax college there is that sure. Yeah. No, of course. I mean, I think that, uh, yeah, I mean that dovetails nicely your role at what you do at fire talks and, and yeah. What that looks like, you know, um, you could pepper it in with obviously your experience from your other roles as well.
Yeah, I'd love to hear about what you do at fire talk. And so when I started fire talk, uh, in 2017, actually slightly before then the, the original vision for the company was really just to be a mechanism to highlight my combined degrees in, in fire protection engineering and in toxicology. And we very quickly after establishing the company, we got an opportunity to do a research project.
um, and I, I started to realize that perhaps there was more to be done with the company that we could, you know, really expand it, to encompass all of these different areas that I truly loved. So the structure became one that I called tier where we provide four core service. Areas we provide training. Uh, we provide investigation, we provide engineering and we provide research services.
And one of the things that I, I firmly believe is that all of those areas feed back into one another. Um, What I have learned in the field of, of fire investigation makes me a better fire protection engineer. And that's really ultimately how it's supposed to work within our profession. We are supposed to learn.
From our history in our past, through incidents that have occurred where we've had large loss of life or large loss of property, to be able to look at those incidents and to be able to help us make better standards and better codes and better designs and systems and technologies to reduce the occurrence of those incidents.
Um, So that's, that's really what we focus on at fire talk. Our research initiatives that we, um, develop are born from what we're seeing happening in the investigation field, or they're born from what we're seeing as being challenges. In the built environment in, you know, things within the code that may not necessarily be clear or things within the code that don't address unique types of occupancies or unique conditions where the design engineer is really left with trying to figure out how to solve this problem, but not necessarily knowing whether or not they've done it the right way.
So we try to focus our research initiatives on, on those types of areas of, of the unknown within our profession. And we really believe that, um, you know, it's important to bring all of these things together and to allow us to continue to play off of these different aspects of, of investigation and, and.
Traditional fire protection, engineering and research. And we use training as a way to communicate all that knowledge to the people that are out there in the field. We train fire investigators, insurance, industry professionals, um, attorneys, even in understanding fire science and fire behavior and spread and fire toxicity is, is another big area that we provide training.
And, uh, you know, I, I find myself to, to be very fortunate, to be able to really do literally everything that I have, have, have really enjoyed over my career. Those things that I found most interesting and most passionate, and to be able to do that every day, uh, in my line of work. now, as far as the forensic toxicologist goes, um, you know, the role that, that I play in that particular, um, side of my profession is really, again, understanding why people are fi fi why people are dying and becoming injured in fires.
So there are many instances where I will work on a case and the question will be, why did this individual not get. Um, in many instances, they're operational smoke alarms and people still aren't getting out. So we look, we look at that data and we look at what's going on. Unfortunately, in some cases, the occupant may be intoxicated.
The occupant may, um, beyond certain drugs that may affect their ability to escape from the fire or may affect their ability to make appropriate decisions in the process of evacuating. Um, you know, in some cases it's issues of auditability, in some cases it's issues of system MIS design or misapplication.
So, um, that, that is part of what I focus on in the forensic toxicology world. And right now we're working on a research project, uh, through the national Institute of standards and technology that we're really excited about. Um, and it is focused on evaluating close to a thousand fire deaths that have occurred in the state of Maryland over the last 15 years.
And we're looking at why these individuals didn't get out the N F P statistics show that two out of five, uh, victims that are dying in fires are in homes with operable smoke. So our interest is understanding who those who those two out of five are and why we have people that are not getting out when we have operatable smoke alarms and whether or not it's an issue of them being part of a susceptible population.
Maybe they're part of the elderly or their children. Um, or they're, you know, hearing impaired or perhaps it's because, you know, again, they could be intoxicated, um, or there could be certain drugs in their system that is impacting their ability to awaken to an alarm or to escape. and we wanna know who those people are because at the end of the day, we, I think as fire protection, as years, we've all gotten into this profession because we want to make a fire safe world.
We want to improve on, um, fire safety. and the way that we do that is by learning from these incidents and trying to better understand what we need to do or how we need to change or improve as a profession to minimize the risk of deaths and injuries in fire. Yeah. That's fascinating. It's interesting. Uh, those statistics about the fire deaths, you know, I, it makes me wonder if, you know, there's.
Some of that ties back into the, the misconception of, you know, how much time, uh, people think that you have to get out of a burning building. I mean, I think I did definitely didn't understand before getting into the industry that, you know, how quickly a flashover occurs in modern building buildings. But yeah, that's really interesting work that you're getting into with, as far as the research is regarded.
Absolutely. So I wanted to, uh, talk about, um, your, you know, just as somebody who's kind of, uh, learning how to, to navigate, you know, um, being a professional and, you know, professional development. Um, and it sounds like you've made, um, in order to have business and all these different, um, kind of. Separate sectors, really, um, research, you know, forensics, I mean fire protection engineering.
I mean, they're related, but separate. Uh, yeah. I just wanted to ask how, if you had any advice for, um, you know, uh, networking or maintaining relationships, I mean, it sounds like you have, uh, had a really fascinated career. So I feel like you might have some insight. Sure. Um, as far as networking goes, you know, I think that one of the things that.
is most important is, is obviously staying in contact with the people that you have found to be influential in your career and the people who you respect, um, within the profession. Keeping in contact with them and understanding where they're at within their lives and their careers. And, and, you know, as we all continue to grow and develop, um, as fire protection engineers, a lot of the people that I went to school with are people that I still communicate with on a regular basis.
And. um, while we all may be kind of out there doing different things, you know, they're, as you mentioned, a lot of these things, all of those seem like they're, you know, segregated within our professions. They're very interrelated and they've really all play off of one another. So I think I've spent a lot of time continuing to stay in touch with and continuing to be involved in the professional societies that represent us.
Um, being a part of the society of fire protection engineering and staying active in what's happening, um, within our field, whether it be, you know, from code development to, um, just being somebody who's reviewing literature, that's being published to see where we're at and what is new and what are the new trends and, and where are we going in our profession?
I think, you know, if you can be a part of a, a committee, whether it be an N F B committee or otherwise, I think that is also a great way to network and a great way to be involved and to stay current in your field. It not only teaches you the process that is involved in standards development, but it connects you with the leaders.
In that, in that particular field and, and connects you with all of the great and wonderful things that those individuals are doing within our profession. And then of course, social media is a big thing. Um, linked is probably one of the biggest ways that I stay connected to the people that I've I've, you know, known throughout the years and the relationships that I've built throughout the years.
Um, you know, keeping people aware of what you're doing and where you're at and the different things that may be changing and within your career, um, it, and is important. And social media is definitely one of the biggest ways to be able to do that. Those are some great tips. I appreciate that. So I wanted to talk about on top of, um, all of your roles and, and your education that you've also seems like maintained a steady, uh, career teaching as well is, uh, you know, maintaining your involvement in fire protection, engineering and forensics.
Yeah. I'd love to hear a little bit about your different, uh, teaching roles. Sure. Um, so I've, I've done a number of different roles, um, as an educator and on a part-time basis. These were all things that I kind of did, um, while I was working full-time, but teaching was always something that I felt to be very.
Um, important to me because I love what I do. And it it's a way to allow me to communicate, you know, my passion and, and my love for my degree program and the things that I've learned within the program. But it also, I think, allows me to stay current in what's happening in my field. And to stay fresh on the things that, you know, I've learned throughout my, um, degree programs.
So I've taught for university of Maryland. Um, I taught for university college where I was a adjunct instructor, um, for the fire science program. So I taught investigation there. And I also taught mathematics as well. I I've always really loved, uh, mathematics and had a passion for that. So, um, I started out teaching there and, and I also did, um, online instruction for Eastern Kentucky university for their fire protection and safety engineering technology program.
I was a instructor for basic fire dynamics and advanced fire dynamics, as well as, uh, fire statistics class that they have. And currently I am an adjunct instructor for university of Maryland college park for their graduate program. And there I teach co-teach co-construct um, with professor, uh, hunt and professor Gwen, a class on human behavior and fire.
and there, we kind of get into evacuation modeling people movement, and also the toxicological aspects of how the fire environment impacts people. Movement impacts, um, behavioral response and impacts one's ability to escape from a fire. That's great. Yeah. I love hearing about, uh, I feel like there is, you know, um, very limited options as far as, you know, fire protection engineering degrees in the, in the states.
But so every time I get a chance to talk to somebody who has, you know, direct experience with one of these programs, I just, uh, yeah. Love hearing about it. And for the people who I'm sure are interested as well, you know, like exploring the, the topic mm-hmm but, um, yeah, I wanted to circle back on, uh, yeah, I mean, it sounds like you've been involved in your time at N and you know, now with fi with fire talk, I've had, uh, really storied careers so far.
And so I just wanted to pick your brain for if you had like, One significant case or, you know, project during your career that really stands out as a huge, uh, teachable moment or just something that was really impactful on your, uh, career. Sure. Um, well, I mean, there's been a lot of, a lot of things that I've worked on throughout the years that have really opened my eyes to.
How much more work we really have to do as a profession, um, which is, which is not a bad thing. We as fire protection engineers, you know, our, our discipline, our engineering discipline is, is really young. It's still in its infancy. I think we still have a lot of work to do. Um, but I would say, you know, from an impactful standpoint, from the standpoint of something that I did or worked on where I really truly.
Like I made a difference in someone's life. Um, it would probably be the criminal case that I worked on early on in my career. Um, and that was the a case involving a woman named Christine bunch. Uh, she had already been convicted. Of arson and murder. Uh, she was convicted of having murdered her three year old son.
This occurred back in the early mid nineties. And, um, where, when I got involved at the point that I got involved, it was actually in what was called a post-conviction. Phase, um, where she was already convicted. She was already in jail. She was convicted to six years, uh, in prison. And she was in the process of essentially appealing her conviction.
And there's a number of different reasons why the court would allow somebody to appeal their conviction. One of those reasons is newly discovered science. So, you know, when somebody is convicted and then subsequently the scientific field advances or new information becomes available that would show or prove that the, the grounds upon which someone was convicted were erroneous.
That is one potential avenue for a legitimate appeal to a conviction. So way back when in 2004, I was just starting to enter my doctoral program and I got assigned this criminal case. Um, my boss said, Hey, you know, we got contacted by this advocate, um, of this woman that's in prison. And, and they'd like us to just kind of look at the case and see what we think and determine if.
You know, there's anything about it that we might be able to help with. And I, I was, you know, still, as I mentioned, beginning my doctoral degree, I was four years into my career as an investigator. Um, and I started looking through the photographs and the pictures and, and I immediately realized, um, that there was some things about the toxicology and the autopsy data for her son that didn't align with the theory of how the fire started.
And I, I really, um, as I continue to look into this and continue to investigate. began, um, to be more and more convinced that Christine had been wrongfully convicted, um, of this crime. So, um, after working for six years on this project, I testified on her behalf and I, I think it was even maybe two years thereafter that she was then exonerated for, um, For her crimes.
And I, I wasn't the only one that testified, there were two other individuals, uh, John Dahan and Jack Mully, who also testified about some other issues in the case that involved ignitable, liquid sampling and, uh, fire dynamics and, and, you know, really kind of understanding the types of patterns that were found at the scene and why they were found.
and, you know, for me, that was probably one of the highlights of my career because it was the point at, uh, of why I got involved in this profession to begin with, was to, to, you know, not only make a fire safe world and help improve upon that goal that we all have as fire protection engineers, but to help people and.
I think that that was, um, I would say probably a highlight of my career as far, you know, as an accomplishment, I was able to take what I knew, uh, as a fire protection engineer and as a, as a student toxicologist and to put it to good use within my profession to help someone. Wow. That's an incredible story.
I mean, I can't imagine how that, um, woman must feel about being exonerated, you know, for such a heinous accusation and, uh, man, that's an incredible story. Um, Yeah, I just wanted to pick your brain a little bit about, um, some professional development topics to kinda round out the interview, although you've had some great tips throughout, um, kind of pertaining to that subject, but yeah, I just wanted to inquire, you know, for somebody like yourself, you know, what do you see as a meaningful trend in, in fire and life safety right now?
In your estimation? Sure. Well, I mean, there's, there's a lot of different things going on in fire and life safety, you know, as I mentioned, we are. We are still a young profession when, when you compare us to some of the other engineering disciplines, um, whether it be, you know, continually looking to approve upon existing technologies, smoke alarm technologies, sprinkler systems, developing smart systems that can, uh, sense fires earlier.
And minimize the amount of damage that may be caused from the suppression activities associated with extinguishing the fire. You know, I think those are all areas that will continue to be. Um, of interest to the fire protection community and also introducing, you know, new technologies completely that no one's ever really explored or thought about and, and applying those to the built environment to enhance fire safety.
Um, I think that another important thing that we, as a, as a community continue to strive to do is. You know, community risk reduction initiatives, educating people about fire and educating people about, um, being able to, you know, understand, like you mentioned how quickly fires develop, how much time they actually do have to get out.
And the fact that it is not a lot of time, um, So I think that those are some, you know, some trends that we'll continue to see, um, as being trends in our profession with regards to the fire investigation, uh, aspects of, uh, and where we are at in, in that part of the profession. you know, we, several decades ago, we were a profession that struggled to enhance and embrace the idea that the investigation of sci of, of invest the investigation of fire.
Sorry, was a scientific process. We really. Many investigators struggled to embrace that, that concept. Um, it was really believed several decades ago that investigation of fire was an art, not a science and what we've done over these last several decades, um, within, you know, the fire protection engineering community is we've really tried to make sure that people understand.
That the investigation of fires is a scientific process. It is one that involves an understanding of physics and chemistry and fire dynamics and heat transfer. And because of that, we need to make sure that our investigators are trained properly in those areas, um, are knowledgeable. That we have solid research that we can rely on to allow us to better understand the types of patterns that we see within fires and what's causing those patterns.
We were decades ago, a profession that relied heavily on rules of thumb, and we relied heavily on. Things, um, that weren't necessarily always true or had no scientific basis. So what we've done is we've continued to try to improve. And I think we now finally see a shift where we embrace the investigation of fire as being a scientific process, and we embrace the idea.
That the scientific method is, is the methodology to use in the investigation of fire. And we continue to see more research initiatives being supported by, you know, institutions like the national Institute of justice to help further along what we, uh, understand within the fire investigation community, whether it be about fire patterns or flash over, um, Or even forensic toxicology, um, and fire toxicity.
So I think those are some of the trends, at least that I'm seeing on my side, um, of the fence. And, and I think they're all very important and very valuable. And I, and I believe that they will lead to a more robust, um, way that we address fire safety in the United. That's awesome. Yeah, it's really interesting, uh, hearing about, uh, fire and investigation.
It's, uh, really complex and it's kind of a wonder to me that the range of individuals that are involved with the. With the profession. So, yeah, it's really interesting to hear you talk about the, uh, trend towards scientific, uh, basis and evaluation. So that's awesome. Anyways, I wanted to end with, um, in your mind, what resources would you recommend to professionals?
You know, I asked this topic and it's broad, but you know, You know what it could be, anything from where you like to get your information or, you know, uh, web tools or anything that you might think would be useful for people who are in fire and life safety. Sure. Um, well, you know, I mentioned staying current with, uh, the profession and, and the ways in which I think we do that are.
Are being a part of what's going on and being a part of NFPA committees or S F P committees. Um, so that we are integrated into. The, the processes that go along with standards, development, and practices and policies that are used within our field. So we had a little audio trouble at the end of the interview, but I just want to give a huge thank you to Jamie for coming on the podcast.
So, if you enjoyed what you heard about Jamie's career, or you want to find out more about her or fire talks, you can, uh, check the show notes or you can go to fire talks.com. I'm gonna be throwing some links in there for how you can get ahold of Jamie, but yeah, really appreciate her coming on the show and we'll see you next time on fire code tech.
Thanks for listening. Everybody. Be sure to share the episode with a friend, if you enjoyed it, don't forget that fire protection and life safety is serious business. The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are by no means a professional consultation or a codes and standards interpretation. Be sure to contact a licensed professional.
If you are getting involved with fire protection and or life safety. Thanks again. And we'll see you next time.