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September 27, 2012 - Image 10

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-09-27

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metro >> on the cover

Answering The Alarm

Farmington Hills lawyer helps save Detroit Firefighters' arson unit.

Harry Kirsbaum
Contributing Writer


Although they spoke up for themselves,
they were still the butt of most of the
jokes, he said. "It was really derogatory."
Sklar was listening, too. And seething.
"They were getting a lot of razzing and
crap from people," Sklar said, with dis-
gust. During a break, he overheard one
of the investigators talking about how the
DFD didn't even have a current edition of
the National Fire Protection Association
"921" guide — considered the bible for
fire investigators — in their office.
"Detroit has the worst arson problem
in the country," Sklar said. "They're faced
with an impossible situation. They inves-
tigate 150 fires per investigator per year,
more than anyone else in the country,
and that only gets to a fraction of the
fires that happen. Now they're cutting the
department in half, and there's no way a
guy can investigate 300 fires."
He introduced himself to Lt. Hill-
Harris and the group, and offered to give
them some current 921 manuals from his
office the next day. After all, Sklar served
on the committee that wrote most of the
fire codes for the manual.
The investigators were thankful, but
they didn't realize that Sklar wasn't satis-
fied enough and had something else in
Since the city couldn't afford $100 for a
current edition of the manual, it probably
couldn't afford $1,000 to send each inves-
tigator to get certification training, either.
Sklar, who's spoken at other fire inves-
tigation seminars around the country,
Canada and England, came up with an
Why not sponsor a program for the
department here in Detroit and certify
their firefighters to become arson inves-
"It was almost unbelievable: said Lt.
Hill-Harris, a firefighter for 12 years. "We
had at that time only one member of our
office who was certified."
Using his connections and clout, Sklar
convinced the National Association
of Fire Investigators (NAFI) to hold a
20-hour program in August for one spe-
cific fire department, which was a first.
He brought in fire science specialists
and professors from all over the country,
including the chairman of NAFI, Patrick

10 September 27 2012

The training allowed 15 Detroit fire-
fighters to take the certified fire and
explosion investigator exam, which none
of them had ever taken before, Sklar said.
"He paid for our speakers to attend,
their hotel stays, food and transporta-
tion, and paid for refreshments for the
attendees each day: Lt. Hill-Harris said.
Sending the firefighters to a similar semi-
nar out of state would have cost about
$30,000, but Fabian, Sklar & King picked
up the tab for the entire event. "Every
single member of the Detroit Arson unit
passed the exam and are now certified
fire and explosion investigators.
"He found out that six members of our
unit wanted to attend a conference that
was scheduled for the following week in
Florida to become certified instructors
as well: said Lt. Hill-Harris. "When we
discovered that this course was not free,
as we had thought, he stepped in and
covered that cost as well.
"As this was all occurring, the city of
Detroit, as part of an overall financial
cut plan, put forth a plan to reduce the
Detroit arson unit by over 50 percent: Lt.
Hill-Harris said. "As a result of Stuart's
efforts, we were able to submit that we
were certified, and now this reduction is
being overturned. We are also develop-
ing a course for other fire departments
in the state of Michigan to assist them in
becoming certified. Stuart SIdar's contri-
bution may be the only reason that the
Detroit arson unit has a unit in the com-
ing years."
Sklar, who successfully represented
the families of two employees killed in
December 2010 in an explosion at the
William C. Franks furniture store in
Wayne, Mich., said he personally handles
50 to 100 cases a year. He also appears
at seminars on a regular basis. He has
filmed training videos for trial testimony
— how an investigator can expect to be
cross-examined at a fire case. He has
held mock cross-examinations and is the
co-founder of a bi-annual international
symposium on fire investigation science
and technology.
He has trained thousands of people
through the course of his career, but "I
told my partners when I got back, out
of all the things I've done, this was the
most rewarding, gratifying thing just to
see how appreciative they were: he said.
"At the end of the day, they're going to be
better at their job. We want them to do it
right." ❑

Stuart Sklar arranged a seminar to help 15 Detroit firefighters who wanted to

become certified arson investigators.


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El Don Parham, chief of the Detroit Fire Department Arson Section, Stuart Sklar
and Patrick Kennedy, chairman of the National Association of Fire Investigators

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