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SAE International Plans Motor Vehicle Fire Investigation Seminar for March 2013 in Phoenix

WARRENDALE, Pa., Dec. 12, 2012 - Understanding how vehicle fires start and spread is crucial to knowing how to best extinguish them. The manner in which a motor vehicle fire is initiated and subsequently spreads is dependent on a number of complex, interdependent, phenomena including combustion kinetics, heat transfer and fluid dynamics. Because the damage caused by a fire is coupled to these phenomena, damage patterns can sometimes be used to understand certain characteristics about the fire.

SAE International’s seminar “Fundamentals of Motor Vehicle Fire Investigation,” is a highly interactive, hands-on course that provide working knowledge of fire science and be able to use this knowledge to assess possible ignition mechanisms, evaluate burn patterns, and analyze fire spread. The course will be held March 18-20. The classroom portion of the seminar will be held at the Hilton Garden Inn with a shuttle to/from Exponent, Inc. for the hands-on portion.

This seminar explores the interpretation and limitations of the physical evidence from a fire scene. The approach to collecting and retaining important physical evidence, and laboratory techniques to examine this evidence, will also be described. As an in-class project, participants will have the opportunity to inspect several burned vehicles, predict cause and origin and compare findings to the actual cause and origin of the fire, as shown in burn test videos.

By attending this seminar, participants will be able to:


·         Apply fundamental combustion concepts to evaluate possible ignition mechanisms, burn patterns, and fire spread


·         Recognize the value and limitations of burn patterns to determine the area of origin of a fire


·         Describe the typical burning characteristics of motor vehicle fires


·         Identify and retain important physical evidence during a structure or vehicle fire inspection


·         Utilize laboratory techniques to evaluate physical evidence recovered from a fire scene

Instructor for the course is Dr. Jeff Colwell, a Principal Engineer for Exponent in Phoenix. Dr. Colwell works in the Thermal Sciences practice and he specializes in the engineering analysis of thermal and combustion processes, especially the cause, origin and propagation of fires and explosions. He has particular expertise investigating fires associated with automobiles, recreation vehicles, motorcycles, and heavy trucks, where typical fire scenarios include post-collision fires, structure fires involving vehicles, and fires that occur while the vehicle is being operated. Prior to joining Exponent, Dr. Colwell held research positions at AlliedSignal Aerospace, the Combustion Laboratory at Arizona State University, the High Temperature Gas Dynamics Laboratory at Stanford University, and the Thermal Sciences and Propulsion Center at Purdue University. He has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wyoming; a M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University; a M.S. in Engineering from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Arizona State University.

For more information on this course, visit;  call 1-877-606-7323 (U.S. and Canada only) or +1 724 776 4970 (outside U.S. and Canada); or email 

SAE International is a global association of more than 133,000 engineers and related technical experts in the aerospace, automotive and commercial-vehicle industries. SAE International's core competencies are life-long learning and voluntary consensus standards development. SAE International's charitable arm is the SAE Foundation, which supports many programs, including A World In Motion® and the Collegiate Design Series™.


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