HISTORICAL REVIEW OF MISSISSIPPI FIRE INVESTIGATION ASSOCIATION – MFIA
DISCLAIMER: THE INFORMATION PRESENTED IN THIS REVIEW IS BASED ON MEMORY, REVIEW, LIMITED DOCUMENTATION, AND SOME TESTIMONY. Hopefully this review will be updated, as documents of history are recovered and presented.
On approval of the 2007 Board of Directors, this historical review is dedicated to the three founders of the MFIA:
Mr. J. R. Crutcher, Mr. Willie Hutchison, (deceased), and Mr. John Parish.
Also, special thanks are extended to Mr. Ed Morgan, who, in 1979 and 1980, had the foresight and determination to revitalize the collapsing organization. Also notable mention is extended to three past presidents: Mr. Dave Berry, Jr., for gaining the association of the MFIA with the International Association of Arson Investigators, Mr. Gene Bishop, who incorporated the MFIA and Mr. Jimmy Johnson, who solicited and received permission to host the 45th Annual IAAI Seminar in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1994.
In 1975, Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal J. R. Crutcher and Fire Marshal Willie Hutchison, of the Jackson Fire Department began discussion of formulating a state-wide organization in recognition and training of fire investigators to combat the plague of arson. Soon after initial discussions, Fire Marshal John Parish, of the Greenwood Fire Department, was brought in to these discussions. In the late fall of 1975, these three men called for a meeting of interested parties, to meet in the conference room in the basement of Central Fire Station, in Jackson, Mississippi. In attendance at this meeting were: the three founding members, Fire Marshal Don Kennedy, Pearl, Mississippi, Investigator Ed Morgan of the Jackson Fire Department Arson Division, Investigator Joe Graham of the Jackson Fire Department Arson Division, and Deputy Chief James Vickers, of the Jackson Fire Department.
Possibly in attendance was an eighth person, whose identify cannot be recalled, but may have been Fire Marshal Jimmy Carver, of the Clinton, Mississippi Fire Department. At this meeting, J. R. Crutcher was elected President, John Parish, Vice President, and Willie Hutchison, Secretary and Treasurer.
The initial school for the MFIA was conducted through the Mississippi State Fire Academy in Pearl, Mississippi, under the direction of Director Skeeter Hart. Assisting Mr. Hart were instructors from the state of Virginia Fire Marshal’s Office, Mr. Worthington and one or two of his assistants. Also assisting as an instructor was Mr. O’Neal from the North Carolina State Police. After three days of classroom instructions, the investigator trainees were taken to a crime scene in the rural part of Rankin County, where a murder by arson/explosion reportedly had occurred. When investigator trainees arrived at the scene, they found evidence of destruction from fire and an explosive force. Also, strewn throughout the burned remains were parts of intestines, hair, flesh, and blood. (Later it was learned these were parts of a hog from a rendering plant). Further investigation revealed a body (a manikin), with evidence of trauma and a bullet wound in the buttocks. Investigators, using information and techniques taught the prior three days, documented the scene, formulated the cause of the explosion/fire, and quickly arrested the culprit. Friday, the last day of the seminar, a mock trial was held. Fire investigators presented the case of murder by arson/explosion and gunshot, resulting from a quarrel between homosexual lovers. The culprit played by an assistant fire chief from Birmingham, who confessed to the dastardly act, under cross examination on the stand. The testimony and confession by the culprit were hilarious and the laughter in this classroom disrupted other classes being conducted at the Academy. This was a most informative learning experience for the fire investigators, and is believed to be the basis for such a rapid increase in membership to the MFIA.
J. R. Crutcher served as president through the fall of 1978. During these years, superb training was offered at the State Fire Academy. Again, much of the instructions came from the Virginia State Fire Marshal office and North Carolina State Police.
In 1978 and 1979, John Parish served as president. Due to lack of written procedures and by-laws, planned seminars were not developed and membership diminished.
In 1979 and 1980, although no meetings were convened, it was generally accepted that John Parish was still president of the organization.
In late fall of 1979, or early spring of 1980, Investigators Ed Morgan and Joe Graham of the Jackson Fire Department Arson Division, approached Deputy Chief James Vickers of the Jackson Fire Department and expressed concerns that the MFIA had dwindled in membership to a dangerous level, and discussed ways of revitalization of the organization. It was the consensus of the three in this meeting that a membership meeting be called, whereas Mr. Morgan took the initiative and sent out notices to members. The membership meeting of interested parties was held in Jackson, Mississippi. It was at this meeting that Dave Berry, Jr, was elected president, Don Kennedy of Pearl, vice-president, and Ed Morgan, secretary-treasurer. These members were to serve the remainder of the term for 1979-1980. Mr. Berry had just begun working as an investigator, in the Arson Division, City of Jackson. Investigator Dave Berry, Jr. was elected to serve as the 1980-1981 president. Investigator Berry was elected president in 1981 and 1982. It was during this term that acting on the decision of the Board of Directors, Mr. Berry went to the International Association of Arson Investigators, and solicited an association between the two groups. On April 29, 1982, the MFIA was accepted as the 40th chapter to be associated with the IAAI. Inspector Gene Bishop of the Cleveland Fire Department was elected president to serve 1982-1983. Mr. Bishop was reelected as president to serve 1983-1984 It was during Mr. Bishop’s term that he and Patricia Eddings, the secretary-treasurer, petitioned the state of Mississippi Secretary of State for incorporation. This incorporation was granted May 17, 1984. Fire Marshal Jimmy Carver of the Clinton Fire Department was elected president to serve 1984 and 1985. Mr. Will Hyche was elected president, to serve 1985-1986. Mr. Hyche, an adjustor for Allstate Insurance Company, was the first president to hold office, who was not a municipal or state fire investigator. Mr. Phil Bryant, an INS insurance investigator, was elected president to serve in 1986-1987, and reelected 1987-1988, and 1988-1989. It was during Mr. Bryant’s tenure that serious emphasis was placed on getting investigators certified. Special agent Ronnie Baughn of ATF was elected president to serve 1989-1990, and was reelected to serve 1990-1991. With the Board of Director’s approval, President Baughn submitted a bid for the Mississippi chapter to host the IAAI Seminar in 1994. Captain Jimmy Johnson of the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department was elected president to serve 1991-1992. During Mr. Johnson’s first term of office, acting on the approval of the Board of Directors, he and several members traveled to the 43rd Seminar of IAAI, in Minnesota (1992), to further solicit the hosting of the IAAI Seminar in 1994. Mr. Johnson was reelected president, to serve 1992-1993. Mr. Johnson, along with several members, traveled to Aukland, New Zealand, to attend the 44th annual IAAI Seminar, and to further solicit hosting the IAAI seminar in 1994. Mr. Johnson was elected a third term, in 1993-1994. The audious solicitation by President Johnson and board members was rewarded whereas the IAAI allowed the Mississippi Chapter to host the 45th IAAI arson seminar, held in Biloxi, Mississippi, May 1-6, 1994. As the result of the contacts and cooperation of the officials in Gulfport and Harrison County, the hard work of the elected official and board of directors, the 45th Annual IAAI Arson Seminar was a phenomal success. Considerable profits were retained by both the IAAI and the MFIA. It was the first time the MFIA had made such profits, and it was rumored that it was the first time the IAAI had made a profit in years with a seminar.
Captain Jimmy Johnson was elected president to serve 1994-1995. Mike Acey, with the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department was elected to serve 1995-1996. Dr. John Owens, a retired professor from Mississippi State University was elected to serve 1996-1997. During Dr. Owens’ term the chapter seminars were accepted for continued education hours. Dr. Owens was reelected for the term 1997-1998. Jonathan (Reggie) Bell, instructor at the Mississippi Fire Academy, was elected to serve the term, 1998-1999. Mr. Bell was elected to serve 1999-2000. ___________ was elected to serve 2000-2001. _____________ was elected to serve 2001-2002.
Van Presson, Investigator for the city of Jackson, was elected to serve as president 2002-2003. Deputy State Fire Marshal David Dry was elected to serve 2003-2004. Investigator Van Presson was elected to serve 2004-2005. Shannon Sandridge, an instructor at the Mississippi State Fire Academy, was elected to serve as president 2005-2006, however due to complications of the storm, Katrina, he did not take office until the spring of 2006. Mr. Sandridge, not having a full term as president, was allowed to serve as president again in 2006-2007.