The Cattaraugus County Fire Investigation Team (CATTFIT) was established in 1979 with grant money that was earmarked for arson prevention. At that time, the field of municipal arson investigation was rapidly growing. A team of investigators was chosen from the ranks of the volunteer fire service in Cattaraugus County and from area police agencies and began investigating fires in 1980. Since that time, the team has witnessed a marked decrease in the instances of arson in Cattaraugus County. The information obtained during cause and origin investigations has been used to develop public safety messages and bulletins about the dangers of fire. Through these education efforts and increased public awareness, the number of fires in the county has also decreased.
The Team currently consists of eight members. Seven members are on a volunteer basis and are from the fire service throughout the county. These seven people volunteer hundreds of hours yearly investigating fires. This time is in addition to their own fire departments, where they are all very active. The eighth member is a member of the Sheriff's Office. He is responsible for maintaining all the fire investigation records, assisting with follow-up investigation on all fires and preparing arson cases for court proceedings, and other day-to-day operations of the Team. The Sheriff's Office also has a member of the Criminal Investigation Bureau assigned to fire investigation. This detective works hand-in-hand with team members on a daily basis.
Members of CATTFIT routinely provide training to local fire departments and schools about such topics as fire behavior, arson awareness, scene preservation, fire prevention, and juvenile fire setters.
CATTFIT also participates with the Cattaraugus County Arson Task Force in the Arson Reward Fund. This fund provides a monies to be used as rewards for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of arsonists. The maximum award from the fund is $2,500.00. Anyone with information about an arson fire can contact any CATTFIT member or the Sheriff's Office with their information. If you have a question about the Arson Reward Fund or fire investigation in general, you can contact Investigator Melissa Yerpe at 938-2573.
All Team Members regularly attend training seminars and schools to stay up-to-date on current trends and techniques. All members also belong to the International Association of Arson Investigators and the New York State Fire Investigators Association (Chapter 23 - IAAI).