Cambrian: Opinion

Forensics is essential, and it’s going on right here in SLO County

Law enforcement personnel, a cadaver dog and forensic experts from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Department dig for evidence behind a Paso Robles home in this photo from Jan. 31, 2002.
Law enforcement personnel, a cadaver dog and forensic experts from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Department dig for evidence behind a Paso Robles home in this photo from Jan. 31, 2002. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

Many years ago, while my older son was still living at home, he considered getting into emergency services. There was a young lady around, a year or two older, who was working as an EMT. She advised him to think twice about doing that in a small town. “You have to be ready for a day when it could be your best friend or your brother that might be hurt … or worse. There are other things you could do to help.”

Now, many years later, he has achieved his EMT certification, but life has kept him in another field. I know he would be an excellent paramedic should he choose to become one — or work in any other branch of that profession.

All of us are just pixels in one big picture. I say all this because a client I had the other day caught my attention with his T-shirt, something about the Fire and Coroner’s Division. He and his wife were visiting from Modesto, and he worked for the Fire Department in nearby Tracy. “Oh, yeah, I got the shirt at a training I participated in at Camp San Luis last year.”

I’m not sure why but the word “coroner” always piques my interest. SLOFIST (San Luis Obispo Fire Investigation Strike Team) puts the training session on. It’s for arson investigators and others in the field to not just figure out the cause of a fire but the preservation of evidence and materials and all other aspects of a scene.

It’s the only program in the country that does this! They actually use donated cadavers to put in arson scenarios. (Note: If you go to the website, be careful of the photo galleries you look through, as there are some graphic ones). Nobody else does this, but it is invaluable to building these skills. You learn best by doing things hands on, and this is it. It may seem a little macabre or morbid but it is so fascinating!

According to the website, www.slofist.org/about, “In 2008, SLOFIST was created as a 501(c)(3). The corporation is the training arm of the task force for all outside training. We have evolved to incorporate an Airway Management course in conjunction with the San Luis Obispo County Emergency Services for local paramedics and EMS personnel as well as our partnership with the SLO County Sheriff’s Dept. Search and Rescue Teams for the ‘Locating the Dead Course’ using canine teams from all over North America; our flagship course, ‘Forensic Fire Death Investigation Course’ and finally the ‘Forensic Vehicle Fire and Investigation Course.’ ”

Who knew? Right here in our backyard, amazing science is going on. Who thinks about what it takes to solve these incidents, to identify individuals, what caused the fire, where it started, etc. If I ever were to watch television, I know I’d get hung up on those forensic programs.

Forensics, search and rescue, arson investigation, public relations, law enforcement, paramedics, firefighting … so many possibilities in one overarching field. And SLO County is a pretty special part of that big picture!

Dianne Brooke’s column is special to The Cambrian. Email her at ltd@ lady tie di .com, or visit her website at www .lady tie di .com.

  Comments