Friday, September 18, 2015

Meet the Fire Expert Behind the Investigation at the Garbage Dump in Cocula, Guerrero

A report from a group of independent experts working under the auspices of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has cast doubt on a Mexican government report regarding the fate of 43 students from a teachers college (Escuela Normal Rural de Ayotzinapa Raúl Isidro Burgos) in Guerrero state. An investigation from the IACHR-sanctioned Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes (GIEI), however, challenged the administration’s version of the events, including the official conclusion that the students had been killed in Iguala and taken to the garbage dump in Cocula where their bodies were burned to ashes. The GIEI based its conclusion on an investigation of the site conducted by José Torero, a renowned Peruvian expert on fire, who visited the site on July 13. Torero’s report said, "The minimum amount of fire needed to cremate the bodies could not have occurred" at the dump in Cocula, not even enough to burn one body.  -SourceMex, September 16, 2015

Photo: University of Queensland
 By Jake Sandler
 The decision by the IACHR to hire José Luis Torero as a consultant gives the investigation significant credibility. After all, Torero has done extensive research on fire safety, arson and other matters related to the incendiary sciences. He has  published 20 book chapters and over 300 articles on subjects relating to fire protection and fire safety engineering. His specialties include “fire dynamics, flame spread, microgravity research, smoldering combustion, smoke detection, structures and fire, suppression systems, contaminated land and education in fire safety engineering.

Torero has conducted work on prescriptive and performance based design, forensic fire investigation and product development, conducted detailed structural response to fire, fire resistance evaluation, material selection, life safety analysis, smoke evacuation, detection and alarm design as well as standard and advanced fire suppression systems.” Over the years his numerous awards and honors include a NASA-Certificate of Recognition for Outstanding Contributions to Space Shuttle Mission (1995).

Born in Lima, Peru, Torero graduated with a Masters Degree in Engineering from Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (1989), MSc. from the University of California at Berkeley (1991), and a PhD. from the University of California at Berkeley (1992). In 2001 he took a position as Associate Professor of Fire Protection Engineering at the University of Maryland. That same year he was also awarded a position as researcher with the National Center for Scientific Research in France. That began his move into European research communities, where since the 1970s the University of Edinburgh had established the most state of the art Fire Safety Engineering program in the world. His current positions include a Chair and Directorship of Fire Safety Engineering at the Building Research Establishment at the University of Edinburgh, where he is also head of the Institute for Infrastructure and Environment.

His expertise on this specialty subfield in engineering is extraordinary and rarely matched throughout the globe. The question is, has he had experience intersecting his work and research with a volatile and politically charged issue such as that which Mexico has contracted him? Although it can be said that fire safety and protection are socially loaded fields everywhere, it seems most of Torero’s work had been in aerospace engineering, urban planning and fire suppression systems, not necessarily this more forensic and criminal angle at play in Guerrero. Although this is a somewhat new position for Torero, he will be utilizing his expertise in the same way he has in his previous studies, focusing on patters and nature of the flames themselves, and the materials that were burned in an attempt to construct a better overall understanding of what actually happened.

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