How do I? close menu

Des Moines Arson Task Force

The Des Moines Arson Task Force is a coalition of interested persons consisting of representatives from the public and private sector. They cooperate to establish a system for the prevention and control of arson fires in the city of Des Moines. The Des Moines Arson Task Force investigates approximately 350 to 400 fires yearly, 65% to 75% of which are believed to be arson.

All fires are investigated with the team approach to provide better communication between fire and police officials, as well as external agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, State of Iowa Fire Marshal’s Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation

The Arson Task Force consists of:   

  • 2 fire investigation teams, each consisting of:
    • 1 Senior Fire Inspector
    • 1 Senior Police Officer
    • 1 member of Polk County Attorney's office

After a fire occurs, the team takes the following steps:  Investigator Knutzen works with ATF at downtown Younkers fire

  • Investigate origin and cause by examining fire debris for clues to how the fire may have started and spread
  • Collect evidence for analysis
  • Take photographs of the fire scene
  • Conduct interviews
  • Develop theories
  • Test theories

The process of the investigation and findings are detailed in a formal investigation report. Investigators, when required, testify to their findings in both formal hearings and court proceedings.

The Des Moines Fire Department recommends the following steps that can be taken to reduce fire-setting opportunity:

  • Keep leaves, firewood, overgrown brush and shrubs away from building to limit the fuel available for outside fires of any cause.
  • Keep matches and lighters out of sight of your children. In addition to juvenile arson, fire play by young children causes hundreds of deaths and millions of dollars of loss each year.
  • Keep doors and windows locked when a building is unoccupied.
  • Bars or other security measures that could trap you in a building during a fire should not be placed on windows and doors without a quick release mechanism.
  • Light the exterior and entrances of buildings.
  • Keep shrubs and trees trimmed so buildings can be observed by Police and neighbors.
  • Secure ladders, external stairways, and fire escapes from allowing access to rooftops.

Training is a priority with members of the Arson Task Force. Members frequently attend special schools and training seminars to update themselves with the newest trends and technology in the field of fire investigation. Members of the task force conduct regular training seminars for personnel of the Des Moines Fire and Police Departments. Part of this training includes live house burns.

Contact the Des Moines Fire Department, Fire Investigation Division at 515-283-4240 for any of the following:

  • You would like additional arson prevention information
  • Your business or community group would like to have someone from the Des Moines Fire Department speak about arson
  • You suspect a child of setting fires or would like information about the Department's juvenile fire-setter program

If you know or suspect that an arson crime has been committed, please call:

  • Phone: (515) 283-4240 or
  • Arrest Arson In Des Moines Hot Line at (515) 223-1400

A reward fund is available to pay for qualified information.

Remember, fire stops with you!