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On November 10, 2015, AAFS Criminalistics Section Chair John Lentini was honored by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) as its 2015 “Person of the Year.” This prestigious award was based on the following nomination, submitted to SFPE by Dr. Craig Beyler:
John Lentini has been a motivating force in the reform of the fire investigation community to reflect our modern understanding of fire science and engineering. Trained as a chemist, John initially worked as an analytical chemist, analyzing fire debris samples for ignitable liquids. He made substantial contributions to the science of fire debris analysis and has chaired the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Committee E30 on Forensic Sciences and is a long-time member of Technical Committee 921 on Fire Investigations.
John moved into the broader areas of fire investigation and, as a scientist, recognized the lack of scientific basis for fire investigation as it had been practiced before National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 921. John joined the 921 committee in 1996 and has been a strong advocate for investigative methods based on fire science. As Manager of Fire Investigations at Applied Technical Services, he authored more than 3,000 technical reports. He supervised two fire investigators and an electrical engineer, while managing a chemical analysis laboratory for fire debris using Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS). He analyzed more than 20,000 samples. He has served as project manager for major fire investigations, conducted site inspections, chemical analyses, and designed and conducted physical experiments to recreate fire scenarios. He has provided training, consulting, and expert witness testimony. Since 1975, he has given expert testimony in more than 200 cases in civil and criminal court in state and federal courts. He has testified for both plaintiffs and defendants and has twice served as a neutral expert hired to advise the court.
John has been called upon by the Department of Justice to serve on its National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Technical Working Group on Fire Investigation, and to contribute to “Fire and Arson Scene Evidence: A Guide for Public Safety Personnel.” He was invited to give a presentation on “The State of the Art in Fire Investigation” to the National Academy of Sciences during its preparation of the 2009 Report, “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.”
While John’s contributions the field of fire investigation are worthy of recognition, it is his contributions to the justice system with respect to arson cases that raise him to the level of a “Person of the Year.” The legacy of fire investigation methodologies not based on science have been the inappropriate convictions in arson cases based upon the non-science-based myths of earlier fire investigations. John has worked tirelessly to identify cases in which inappropriate fire investigation methods have resulted in arson convictions. He has worked regularly with the Innocence Project to identify cases of inappropriate arson convictions and working tirelessly on appeals for these convictions. He was a member of the Innocence Project committee that reviewed the Willingham and Willis cases in Texas in which errors were found in both cases, though in the case of Willingham only after he had been put to death.
John works tirelessly to educate his fellow fire investigators on the methods of scientifically based fire investigation methods. This teaching work led to the publication of his book, Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation, now in its second edition.
Mr. Lentini joins a distinguished group of prior recipients of this award, including some of the top fire scientists of the 20th and 21st centuries. The list of SFPE Person of the Year Award recipients can be found here: http://www.sfpe.org/?page=PersonYearRecipients.