Fire investigator named OK-IAAI Investigator of the Year
Bartlesville Fire Department Investigator Capt. Jerry Berry has been selected to receive one of the most prestigious awards in the industry — the International Association of Arson Investigators’ Investigator of the Year Award for the Oklahoma chapter.
Only 70 of the awards, one for each chapter, are given each year internationally. Berry is one of just two fire investigators to ever win the award for Bartlesville.
“When I heard about the award Jerry was receiving I immediately thought they could not have chosen a better fire investigator to give this honor to,” said Fire Chief John Banks. “The City of Bartlesville is very lucky to have such a person that is willing to spend the time and energy it takes to determine whether a fire is arson or accidental and work diligently to bring the arsonist to justice. Jerry is just a great person and it shows in everything he does.”
“Jerry is very deserving of the Fire Investigator of the Year award,” said Deputy Chief David Topping. “I have personally witnessed the dedication he puts forth through all the stages of fire investigation. He not only works as one of our fire investigators, he is also a front-line fire captain for the department and is respected by his peers in both positions. We are fortunate to have him as part of our team and are very thankful for him.”
The IAAI award is given to fire investigators who “have shown outstanding achievement through the use of professional expertise in both the criminal and civil fields of arson control,” according to the IAAI’s website.
Berry, who received the award during the annual IAAI conference last month in Tahlequah, was nominated for the award by fellow BFD fire investigator Bill Hollander. Hollander is the only other BFD investigator to earn the award, taking home the prize in 2010.
“This year Jerry has gone above and beyond in his efforts as an investigator,” Hollander said. “He has investigated numerous fires in Bartlesville, many of them arson in nature. Jerry has worked very hard to bring those people to justice.”
In his nomination letter, Hollander said Berry works on his days and weekends off, including his vacation time, in an effort to resolve outstanding arson cases.
“He has spent countless hours away from his family in the pursuit of justice and has a keen desire to get arsonists off the streets in hopes that he can keep citizens and fellow firefighters from getting hurt or killed because of arson fires,” Hollander said.
Berry, who joined the Bartlesville Fire Department as a firefighter in 2000, has proven to be a tireless foe for arsonists since earning his CLEET Certification (Council on Law Enforcement Education Training) and becoming a Certified Fire Investigator in 2005.
Since that time, Berry’s work has lead to numerous arrests and closed cases, but it is his more recent work involving a serial arsonist that helped earn him the statewide recognition this year, Hollander said.
“The past six months have been especially taxing as there is a serial arsonist roaming the streets of Bartlesville,” Hollander said. “I’ve lost track of the times Jerry has been called to investigate a fire in the middle of the night. Yet, after spending all night digging out a fire scene, he is back in the office, putting all the clues together and getting ever closer to ridding our city of this serial arsonist.”
Hollander said Berry is so single-minded in working to solve these crimes that he had to be tricked into leaving the cases long enough to attend the OK-IAAI conference, where it would be announced that Berry had won the award.
“He has been so worried about somebody getting hurt from these fires that he came in and said, ‘I don’t think I can go to the conference this year. I think I really need to work on these arson cases,’” Hollander said. “I told him, ‘You’ve got to go.’”
The two can laugh about it now, but Berry admits: “I got a little mad,” he says.
Berry says he relented and agreed to attend the conference after Banks promised to summon him and “hold the scene” if a suspicious fire occurred while he was gone.
“I was glad I went. A lot of my family was there, including my 83-year-old mother. That was nice, having her there,” he said.
Berry said he was surprised when his name was called as OK-IAAI Investigator of the Year.
“It’s a very nice gesture from a group of guys that are the top investigators in the state,” he says. “They invented some of the things that we are able to do. They’re the best. So when they recognize you and say, ‘Job well done,’ it means something. It touched me when they called my name. I had no idea. I broke up a bit. I didn’t see it coming.”
As a winner of the chapter award, Berry will now be considered for the International Arson Investigator of the Year award.