In 1982, Kilgore Fire Marshal Charlie Johnson and Longview Deputy Fire Marshal Harold Hardie attended a police interrogation course in College Station, Texas, sponsored by the Texas Engineering Extension Service, Police and Security Training Division. During this weeklong class, they had occasion to discuss the need for additional training and sharing of information in the Central East Texas area. Their discussion centered on the need for an organization promoting this goal. When they returned to their respective locations, they continued to visit with each other, trying to decide how to implement their thoughts and ideas.
For several weeks they had discussions with the fire prevention staffs of the two cities and decided to contact other full time investigators in the central area of East Texas. It was determined this area would consist of Gregg County and it’s surrounding other four counties; Rusk, Smith, Upshur and Harrison Counties.
At noon on April 16, 1983, an organizational meeting was held at the Holiday Inn in Longview. There were 13 representatives from Kilgore,
Longview, Tyler, Marshall, and Henderson in attendance.
Kilgore Fire Marshal’s Office: Charlie Johnson, Dale McBride
Longview Fire Marshal’s Office: Harold Hardie, Bill Parrymore, David Burrows, Jesse Metcalf
Marshal Fire Department: Bill Elliott
Gilmer Fire Marshal’s Office: Jack Taylor
Longview Police Department: Ross Roseborough
Harrison County Fire Marshal’s Office: Mason Dement
Smith County Fire Marshal’s Office: Gene Childers
Gregg County District Attorney’s Office: Snow Bush
Rusk County Sheriff’s Office: Steve Newton
A charter was presented and adopted for the CENTRAL EAST TEXAS ARSON INVESTIGATOR’S ASSOCIATION. Charter officers elected were: Charlie Johnson, President; Harold Hardie, Vice-President; and David Burrows, Secretary-Treasurer.
The first official activity of the new association was to plan and conduct a training session, which took place in 1984. Dues were set at $12.00 per year and monthly meetings were established to be held on the second Saturday of each month. On these Saturdays, we would meet wherever we could get free use of a meeting place and we used our dues to buy bread, cold-cut sandwich meats, cheese, mayonnaise and mustard for lunch.
In these early days of the Association, meetings were often lively with the membership debating many things; from who could become members or not to who could provide our training or not and what type sandwiches we wanted next month. The fact that we met on Saturdays reflects the thoughts of the membership that they needed to be on their own time and not on the “clock”. Most came to the meetings in their own vehicles and not in uniform for concern that they might create problems with their superior officers.
Early on, the membership voted to only allow full time, certified investigators and peace officers to become active members. This was actually an attempt to NOT allow membership to volunteers or line firefighters (including fire chiefs) due to the sensitive nature of many of our discussions regarding criminal activities. Also certain activities of some individuals within local fire departments were thought to be counter-productive toward our goals of promoting active fire investigations and training. Sad to say, some of our thoughts on these matters turned out to be very accurate. Later, membership requirements became somewhat relaxed and the overall ideals of the Association seemed to change somewhat.
Also, early on, the membership voted to NOT allow the Fire Protection Training Division of the Texas Engineering Extension Service to conduct training for our membership. Many of the members believed past training by that agency had been sub-standard, especially as it applied to arson investigation, so we decided to go out on our own and find instructors we felt were more qualified. This worked well for us at the time.
As with any organization, changes did occur over the years. As the membership changed, so did certain thoughts and opinions. On April 14, 1993, we changed our name to EAST TEXAS ARSON INVESTIGATOR’S ASSOCIATION, dropping “Central” from the name to reflect our growing membership base which at that time extended from Texarkana and Paris on the north to Lufkin and Palestine on the south and Athens on the west. We also now included some private investigators in our membership, most of whom previously worked for municipal investigating agencies. We also included some state and federal agents as members. We also have had members from Arkansas and Louisiana from time to time.
The major activity of the Association has become our annual East Texas Arson Investigator’s Seminar, which has grown from a one-day conference to a full-blown three-day seminar. The quality of our annual training has become well known around the entire state and also attracts participants from out of state and even once from Canada.
In 1985, TEEX Training Specialist, Jack Sneed, approached us. He wanted us to allow the A&M training group to participate in the seminar. His request was at first denied by a vote of the membership. He said he didn’t want A&M to run the show, but would like us to consider letting them provide advertising, keep the training records, do the bookkeeping and provide the training certificates. This was approved by a split membership vote. The Association still arranges for all the instructors, course topics, scheduling and location and sets and collects the fees.
The Association now seems to have the support of most, if not all, of the fire related organizations, departments, and agencies in the state and surrounding areas as well as most of the local businesses that provide assistance with our seminar. We hope this spirit of cooperation continues from now on.
The mission of the ETAIA is to unite for mutual benefits those public officials and private persons engaged in the investigation of the origin and cause of fires, for the control of arson and kindred crimes; to provide for exchange of technical information and developments; to encourage cooperation between public service agencies and associations to further fire prevention, investigation and the suppression of crime; to encourage high professional standards of conduct among fire investigators and to continually strive to eliminate all factors which interfere with administration of crime suppression; and to foster greater professional competence in the investigative techniques of fires and recognition of the crime of arson.