Lexington’s ‘fire cops’: Two jobs in one

There are a number of reasons that make some fires hard to solve, but instead of a deterrent, it’s a welcome challenge for fire investigators including one who brings a unique perspective to the job.

“I just love what I do,” Lexington Fire Department Battalion Chief Mark Blankenship says.

Cop… Turned firefighter… Turned ‘fire cop’.

“For me it’s like the best of both worlds,” Blankenship says.

“There’s always a rivalry between police and fire,” he says. “I always tell my police officer friends that I finally scored high enough on the test to be a fireman and not a police officer and they say the same thing in return.”

Blankenship is in charge of Lexington’s fire investigations unit.

“[It] peaks and valleys,” he says. “You know you might have slow days and then you have peak days where everything is busy, busy, busy.”

After a fire, figuring out what happened is a job that might be harder than fighting the actual fire itself.

“A lot of the times we can prove that it was intentionally set, however proving who did it is the difficult part,” Blankenship says.

In cases of arson, the puzzle of proving who started that fire sometimes seems nearly impossible.

“It is interesting to at least me, and I think everybody in here, to be able to do that equation or solve that puzzle as to what happened,” Blankenship says.

Fires are hard to investigate because most of the evidence is destroyed in the actual fire. Fingerprints are blurred by soot and the arsonist is usually long gone before someone notices the flames and calls 9-1-1.

“I know the media gets frustrated because we’ll say they are under investigation, but that’s the case,” he says. “A lot of times it is several weeks if not months before we really know what happened.”

But the difficulty of solving arson cases doesn’t stop the team of five Lexington Fire Department investigators from working to solve the puzzle.

“All of these men and women who work in here, we’d like to have a 100% conviction and clearance rate, but we know it isn’t possible,” he says.

“It always keeps your interest,” Blankenship says. “There is always something new and challenging.”

Categories: Local News, News

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