ATF launched the first National Response Team (NRT) in 1978, as a mobile, rapid response team to investigate large fires, explosions and bombings. ATF now maintains several NRTs strategically located throughout the eastern, central and western regions of the United States.
NRT members apply their specialized skills to investigate crime scenes, reconstruct fire origins, and identify the cause. They also conduct witness interviews as part of the investigative process. Their work is mentally and physically demanding, requiring long hours and a great depth of technical knowledge.
NRTs are made up of veteran special agents and scientific technicians with expertise in fire origin/cause determination and post-blast analysis, including Certified Fire Investigators, Certified Explosives Specialists (CES), CES Bomb Technicians, Explosives Enforcement Officers, forensic chemists, engineers, medics, and canine handlers. The teams are supported by ATF’s intelligence research specialists, forensic auditors, digital media specialists, and other technical and legal experts who work with law enforcement on criminal cases.
Like ATF’s International Response Teams, their overseas counterparts, NRTs use cutting-edge technologies including robots to conduct interagency criminal investigations. NRT members stay current on the latest trends and tools to help recreate explosion and bombing crime scenes to identify patterns and develop investigative leads.
NRTs are activated when a major fire, explosion or bombing requires additional operation capabilities to support local authorities or ATF resources investigations. NRTs can travel anywhere in the nation within 24 hours. Once operational, they provide a command and control structure along with significant logistical support that brings various experts together as a team to analyze complex fire/explosion-related crime scenes. They also participate in the criminal investigative process and provide expert testimony in court.
NRTs have deployed to high-profile cases such as the 2019 Conception boat fire investigation during which they partnered with the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department and the U.S. Coast Guard to reconstruct the scene and identify the cause of the fire that took 34 lives. During fiscal year 2019, NRTs deployed to 15 missions across the nation. Most recently, they also responded to fires set during civil unrest during the 2020 protests in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.
Combating Violent Crime
Felony arson investigations are part of ATF’s mission to provide a frontline against violent crime. Felony arson can be committed by people with criminal intentions such as insurance fraud, cover ups for other crimes, or in some cases, murder. ATF’s NRTs share resources, intelligence and their expertise with local law enforcement to help solve felony arson cases. Their hard works also serves as lessons learned for training programs and future investigations.