top of page

Fire Scene Evidence Collection Guide

Electrical Equipment and Products
Electrical Receptacles

Prior to entering the fire scene, don appropriate PPE.


Detailed Procedure

At the electrical service panel:

  1. Visually examine the electrical service to ensure all circuits are de-energized and electrical products can be safely collected.

  2. Photograph the panel.

  3. Sketch or diagram the scene and evidence to be collected, noting the circuit of interest.

Proceed to the electrical receptacle collection site. 

To collect a receptacle that is attached to a wall or other immovable object:

  1. Photograph the area as found.

  2. Apply a non-contact voltage tester to the receptacle as a presumptive test for the presence of electrical current. Use a multimeter as appropriate. If current is not detected, proceed.

  3. To facilitate potential collection in the future, document which branch circuit overcurrent protection device supplied the subject receptacle.

  4. When a cord or device is plugged into a subject receptacle, the receptacle is typically collected as one assembly with the cord or device attached and any electrical product serviced by the cord or device. Only unplug the cord or device in the field if all interested parties have been notified and agree.

  5. Use the general to specific methodology to photograph the receptacle in place. Continue photographing the collection process as you collect the receptacle.

  6. When you are ready to collect, don new, unused, clean latex or nitrile gloves and gather the containers and tools necessary. Typically, boxes or zip plastic bags are used. 

  7. Remove the faceplate first and place it in a zip bag or zip tie it to a backer board. 

  8. Use a multimeter to verify that power is not flowing to the receptacle.

  9. Use a saw or other appropriate tool to cut away the drywall or other covering around the outlet so you can access the receptacle box and electric supply line.

  10. Use color-coordinated zip ties, a permanent marker, or a paint pen, make witness marks on the supply line to be cut.

  11. If the receptacle is in middle of a string, label line side vs. load side.

  12. Mark the receptacle or its remains, such as the yoke, to denote the orientation of the receptacle as found, for example up/down.

  13. Use diagonal cutters to cut the line between the witness marks.

  14. Remove the receptacle box from the wall stud it is secured to. Pry, cut, unscrew, or remove any fasteners securing conductors. Be careful when handling brittle wire to avoid damage.

  15. Remove the receptacle and conductors.

  16. Use zip ties or a similar method to secure them to a backer board to prevent damage or alteration.

  17. Place the receptacle with the backer board into an appropriately sized box or enclose in a zip bag to prevent damage to or alteration of the cord or device. 

  18. Add the faceplate, if present, to the box. 

  19. Photograph again.

  20. Close and seal the box or bag with evidence security tape. 

  21. Initial and date the tape. 

  22. Label the bag or box packaging with case information according to your organization’s SOP.

To collect a receptacle that is no longer contained or secured in a receptacle box:

  1. Photograph the area as found.

  2. Carefully excavate the area beneath where the receptacle was previously located to identify all components, including grounding yoke, blade receivers, conductor wiring, and terminal connector screws for hot, neutral and grounding conductor connections. 

  3. Sift the debris with various sized mesh screens, if necessary to locate all components. 

  4. Photograph components as they are found. Set them aside. 

  5. Photograph all sides of each component against a contrasting background. Identify the components, including the grounding yoke, blade receivers, conductor wiring, and terminal connector screws.

  6. Place all loose components in a zip bag. 

  7. Zip the bag closed.

  8. Seal the closure with evidence security tape. 

  9. Initial and date the tape.

  10. Label the bag or box packaging with case information according to your organization’s SOP.


After you have collected the receptacle assembly, collect the branch circuit overcurrent protection device, if appropriate:

  1. Apply a non-contact voltage tester to the panel as a presumptive test for the presence of electrical current. 

  2. Use a multimeter as appropriate. 

  3. Witness mark the overcurrent protection device on the circuit of interest to denote which one it is. 

  4. Use zip ties or a paint pen to witness mark the branch circuit line. 

  5. With diagonal cutters, cut between the witness marks. 

  6. Pry the overcurrent protection device and the attached branch circuit wire piece out. Place in a zip bag and close. 

  7. Label the bag according to your organization’s SOP. 

  8. Seal the bag with evidence tape. 

  9. Initial and date the tape.

  10. Store the collected items in a secure location until you can transport them to the laboratory.

  11. Transport the collected items to a climate-controlled, secure evidence storage facility consistent with your organization’s guidelines. If you will be shipping the evidence to a lab, consult the lab for advice on how to package for shipping so the evidence is not damaged in transit.

Laboratory testing of electrical receptacles:

Examination of electrical receptacles in a laboratory environment may provide an opportunity to evaluate and document melting or electrical activity with the assistance of light microscopy, x-ray, computer tomography, metallurgical evaluation, or SEM/EDS analysis.

bottom of page