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Digging in the Dirt- The Early Beginnings of a Fire Investigator and Forensic Engineer

I am often asked how I found myself in "this" career. I typically mention my early beginnings in the fire service, but in reality, my love for investigation and engineering started much earlier in my life. I was reminded of that more recently while looking through some photographs from my childhood.

Yes, that's me working the controls of a backhoe at age 6. I grew up working on construction sites with my dad. Summers and holidays were spent learning different trades. I worked beside my father on commercial construction sites in Philadelphia during the day, and then helped him build our family home from the ground up on the nights and weekends. From pouring foundations, to raising walls and setting trusses, to running electrical, HVAC, and plumbing, I've had the opportunity to place my hands on all of it. At the time, I had no idea how invaluable those experiences would be in molding and shaping my future and career as an investigator and an engineer. Not only did I get to learn it, but I got to do it.

At 17 years old, I decided to join the volunteer fire service. Part of our high school graduation requirement was a community service project. While many students chose activities on the recommended list, I chose to run into burning buildings. Definitely not the typical path, but a decision I made with no pondering, perhaps because I had spent most of my life being rough and tumble, sweating and getting dirty, using tools and heavy machinery. The skills, knowledge, and work ethic that my family instilled in me led me to the fire service, and the fire service laid the foundation for everything that followed- an amazing and fulfilling career and a beautiful family.

I fell in love with the fire service and everything it represented, but becoming a career firefighter conflicted with my parents' desire for me to go to college. When I learned about the fire protection engineering program at the University of Maryland, I knew I had found the answer. I wanted to learn more and do more, so I did not stop at a bachelor's degree. A few years after finishing my master's degree in fire protection engineering, I got the itch to pursue my doctoral, but I wanted to expand my skills beyond engineering. Having spent most of my career investigating fire related deaths and injuries, I knew it was time to understand more about the victims, their behavior in fires, and the toxicity of fires. After many arduous years, I completed my PhD in Toxicology and became one of a few individuals in the world with dual-degrees in fire protection engineering and toxicology.

Now decades later, I often reflect on these experiences and decisions and the people who have helped me along the way. I am grateful to be able to take all these skills and feed them into my growing business, FireTox, LLC.

So, how did I find myself in "this" career ?- I guess the simple answer is that I love to analyze, to engineer, to deconstruct, to reconstruct, to investigate, and most importantly, to dig in the dirt!


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