No one wants to see fire their homes. However, fire often comes unexpectedly. When one sees his house burned down in flame and the “home” built on years of hardship was reduced to a scorched pile of rubbles, the disappointment and helplessness start to emerge. Is there really nothing else to say but “Oh My Gosh?”
The first thing that comes to people’s minds when a fire breaks out is always the fire department! It is also the fire department that investigates the cause of fire as part of its duties. The ownership of the property may belong to the fire victim, but the law specifies that the cause has to be determined. That’s why the fire department has to investigate why the fire broke out and provide their assistance to those who suffer from a fire in addition to rescuing lives and property from the immediate danger of fire. They are also responsible to help the fire victims and give their caring to them.
Luckily, most people will not face this disaster in their lifetime. Because of that, however, none of them will understand how desperate and helpless it is when a fire happens to any of us except firefighters. The following are what fire department has to do in the aftermath of a fire:
I. Secure the fire scene: as the fire is put out, the victim has to help secure the fire scene, and no access is granted without investigation and the permission of forensic personnel, as to find out the exact cause of the fire. However, if the victim believes there is still something valuable and wants to get it out of the scene, a request may be brought to the fire scene investigator, and then the investigator will accompany the victim into the scene to take photos and retrieve the item(s) provided that the scene still remains intact. Cooperation is required for the forensic efforts to identify evidence.
II. Start interviews and take statements: it is expected that most of items at a fire scene are burned and difficult to identity, and the victims have the responsibility and obligation to cooperate for statements to determine what was it like in the building before the fire. Not only the fire victims, those who discovered and reported the fire, such as neighbors or passers-by, are also obligated to provide their statements in order to help the fire department clarify how the fire started at the beginning.
III. The Fire Services Act specifies that a fine over NT$3,000 and under NT$15,000 may be imposed on those who refuse to cooperate for fire scene investigation, interview, evidence collection and preservation or even sabotage the fire scene; even more, a charge of destruction of evidence on crime scene may be imposed according to the Criminal Code.
The fire victims or stakeholders may request for a fire certificate from the fire department of municipality or local country (city) government. If multiple households are involved, the fire department will provide fire scene information on request, such as when and where the fire started, the ground zero and the cause (except for suspected arsons and fires involving death which require criminal investigation) for the mediation between the victims and insurance compensations. The fire certificate issued by the fire department can be used for the following purposes:
1. In case bank notes are burned in a fire, the remains of the notes shall be preserved and placed in a paper box. Do not crumble them. Go to any branch of Bank of Taiwan to fill out an “identification request” and file the request for bank note identification to Investigation Bureau, Ministry of Justice along with the fire certificate. Once the remains are identified, the Bureau will issue a certificate with which to request replacement notes from Bank of Taiwan.
2. To request for compensation of house insurance, the request should be filed to the insurance company along with this certificate.
3. This certificate and the vehicle registration are also a part of the package to file the request to motor vehicle agencies for disposing off the burned vehicles and reduction of license and fuel taxes.
4. The request for reduction of property tax shall be filed to local tax office with the package consisting of the fire certificate, fire scene photos and a list of lost properties.
5. The request for reduction of income tax and business tax shall be filed to local national taxation bureau with the information comprising the fire certificate, fire scene photos and a list of lost properties.
6. The fire certificate is also required when requesting social assistance or emergency assistance.
7. If the fire victims are in need for cleaning the fire scene and debris, they may contact the cleaning squadrons of local township offices for the assistance in cleaning by presenting the fire certificate.