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Fire Forensics

Deceptive arsons. Devastating wildfires. Deadly bombings. Authorities around the world turn to David Icove for answers and training.

January 08, 2018

David Icove, the Underwriters Laboratory Professor of Practice in UT’s Tickle College of Engineering, has four decades of expertise in fire forensics.

In 2002, Icove helped create the National Joint Terrorism Task Force. In 2016, he consulted with investigators following the deadly Gatlinburg wildfires.

By earning four engineering degrees—three from UT and one from the University of Maryland—Icove developed the expertise to co-author Kirk’s Fire Investigation with John DeHaan.

The text—now in its eighth edition—is considered the definitive guide for fire investigators. Icove says the book fills a void since no such reference had existed before.

“We wrote the book to fill a need, which was to get all the knowledge, techniques, and information that we’d gathered through investigations in one place,” said Icove. “That way, anyone who might be conducting a fire investigation could pick it up and look at some of the things we encountered to see if their case had any familiar elements.

“It’s like an encyclopedia of fire investigations, in a sense. You don’t know what can help you make a break in a case, so every new perspective helps.”

Icove was in the early stages of his two-decade career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation when the first edition of Kirk’s Fire Investigation was released. He went on to become an FBI profiler who served on the Unabomber Task Force.

In 1993, Icove—a certified fire and explosion investigator—returned to UT as an instructor. His certificate-based fire forensics course is open to students and professionals.

He has also expanded his investigative skills into data analysis. Icove helped develop an algorithm that can identify undetected or unreported arsons in the US by reviewing a national reporting system.

The algorithm aids work by the Murder Accountability Project, a nonprofit made up of experts who educate the American public about unsolved homicides. Icove serves on the board of directors.

“Whether you are talking about solving murders or solving fires, it all comes back to looking at data,” said Icove. “Data doesn’t have emotions. Data just exists, so you can learn to find the right patterns and signals and it can be applied in any number of fields.”

In 2017, Icove traveled to Israel, where he helped train firefighters at a newly established academy, and to Brazil, where he addressed the National Congress of Criminalistics.

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