USM students conduct mock investigation

By Jessica Bowman – email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - About 25 students teamed up Thursday to investigate the reason for a Gulfport house fire. The students are part of USM Gulf Park's Arson Process and Courtroom Procedures.

"They're applying the investigative techniques to the fire that occurred here at this residence and they're studying and attempting to determine origin and cause from this fire," USM Gulf Park Instructor Dr. Tom Payne said

Tuesday, a fire broke out destroying the Martel's home.

"Even though we've lost everything, we can give a little bit back to education," homeowner Victoria Martel said.

Dr. Tom Payne said Criminal Justice students teamed up to investigate the fire using classroom training skills such as interview techniques, cameras and shovels.

"Basically, it's just a process of investigation. They won't make any real determinations, but we're training them to in a real world practical application," Payne said.

Dr. Payne said the training was also made possible for students who don't attend USM Gulf Park without cost.

"It provided us a unique opportunity for some cross training between wild and fire and structural fire fighting as far as the differences in scene investigating the way they collect evidence versus they way we collect evidence," Randy Wilson with the Mississippi Forestry Commission said. "It was an eye opening experience."

Coast firemen, policemen and civilians role played during the mock investigation to help make the training a success.

"I was able to put my students with real firefighters to learn practical experience, rubbing elbows, doing some networking and learning at the sides of real firefighters and I think that's important," Payne said.

Each student who completes the 40 hour class will be certified as an arson specialist. Dr. Payne said the hands on experience would not have been possible for his students without the help of the Martel family.

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