Speaker Information/Bio


 Report Writing

Darren Solomon

Darren Solomon is a Senior Special Agent (SSA) with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) based in Charlotte, North Carolina. SSA Solomon has worked for the ATF for over 20 years. Since 2014, he has served as a Certified Fire Investigator (CFI), certified by both ATF and the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI). He is also a member of ATF’s National Response Team and has been designated as Lead CFI on multiple responses.  Prior to joining ATF, he worked as a police officer with the Charlotte/Mecklenburg Police Department, serving as an Arson Detective assigned to the Fire Investigation Task Force. SSA Solomon currently represents ATF on the National Fire Protection Association 1321 - Standard for Fire Investigations Unit and serves as 1st Vice President for the IAAI– North Carolina Chapter. During his career, he has had the privilege to teach at numerous conferences, the National Fire Academy, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, and the International Law Enforcement Academy in El Salvador. SSA Solomon is a graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and received his Master’s degree from Oklahoma State University.


Introduction to Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Fires - Investigation and Analysis

Hernan Mercado-Corujo

Hernán Mercado-Corujo is a professional mechanical engineer specializing in the engineering analysis of vehicle Product Liability issues and thermal events, specifically, the origin, cause, and spread of fires and explosions. He provides consulting and expert witness testimony for clients nationally. Hernán has investigated fires and explosions in a wide variety of applications, including motor vehicles, recreational products, agricultural / farming / construction equipment, and property, including fires aboard a cargo ship. He has experience with fuel system components, fuel-fed vehicle fires, and alternative fuel systems (LPG, CNG, hybrid, etc.).


Failure Analysis of Residential Dehumidifiers

Luke Choudek

Luke is an electrical engineer with over fifteen years of experience in the forensic discipline. Luke joined OnSite Engineering as a Forensic Electrical Engineer in 2014. He worked many years part-time for the company assisting at site and lab exams, managing artifacts, research and was involved in many aspects of the forensic engineering field. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Electrical Engineering. Prior to joining OnSite Engineering, Luke worked as an electrical engineer in power systems, distribution design, research, and technology for an electric utility company. Luke served as a volunteer firefighter with the Prior Lake Fire Department.


Motor Vehicle Fluid Heater Failures

John Pagels, P.E.

John Pagels, PE, has been in the MN forensic electrical engineering community for 34 years, the last 18 years as the owner and sole engineer at Pagels Engineering, Inc. Prior to forensic engineering, Mr. Pagels was a factory certified Epson technician. He enjoyed the troubleshooting and repair aspects of that career, the same as he has in his forensic electrical engineering career. He also taught electronics at Anoka Ramsey Community College, and Anoka AVTI (now known as Anoka Technical College).

Neal Hanke, P.E.

Neal has B.S. in Materials Engineering from Iowa State University. He is a licensed professional materials and metallurgical engineer in several states throughout the Midwest and has been conducting materials characterization and testing with Materials Evaluation and Engineering, Inc. in Plymouth, MN since 2011. Since becoming a P.E. in 2016, he has focused primarily on forensic materials investigations, especially those involving fires and explosions.


Improving Fire Investigator Health and Safety: Saving Lives Through Best Practices.

Jeff Pauley, IAAI-CFI, IAAI-CI

Jeff Pauley is a post-fire scene health and safety consultant, and a former fire marshal and private fire investigator. He has been the IAAI Health & Safety Committee chairman since 2018. Jeff holds many Virginia and North Carolina fire service certifications and is an IAAI certified fire investigator and certified instructor. Jeff is also an adjunct instructor for the Virginia Fire Marshal Academy. He has an AA in law enforcement, a BS in management studies, a graduate certificate in public administration, and a master’s degree in occupational safety and health.


Alternative Energy Systems

Dr. John Cavaroc

John Cavaroc, P.E., Ph.D. is President of SAFE Laboratories and Engineering Corp. in Sanford, NC, a multi-discipline forensic engineering firm specializing in fire investigation and testing.  He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Louisiana Tech University, and Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from North Carolina State University. Dr. Cavaroc is a licensed professional engineer, licensed electrical contractor, licensed pyrotechnic display operator, certified fire and explosion investigator (CFEI) and is HAZWOPER Certified. He has over 10 years of fire service experience, having held positions as fire fighter, EMT, engineer, maintenance supervisor, captain, board member, and assistant chief.  Dr. Cavaroc is a member of Member of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI), International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) and Pyrotechnics Guild International (PGI).  He has been issued three US Patents related to power quality and hydrogen fuel cells.

Hypothesis Development in Fire Investigation: Theory and Practice

Steven Avato

Steven J. Avato is a retired Captain who was with the Loudoun County (VA) Fire Marshal’s Office from 2016 until 2022. Prior to his employment with Loudoun County,  Avato was employed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from May 1989 until his retirement in 2016.  During that time, he served in numerous fire and explosion related specialty positions including ATF Division Chief at the National Explosives Task Force (NETF), Resident Agent in Charge (RAC) of the Falls Church I (Arson / Explosives) Field Office (2005 – 2013) Certified Fire Investigator Training Manager (Arson and Explosives Division), National Response Team (NRT) Supervisor and the National Response Team Program Manager. Mr. Avato was an ATF Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) and an ATF Certified Explosives Specialist (CES) investigating incidents in Southeastern Pennsylvania while assigned to the Philadelphia Arson Task Force and in Southern New Jersey while assigned to the Trenton (NJ) Field Office.   

Mr. Avato is currently an International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) Certified Fire Investigator.  In 2000, he was honored by the IAAI as Investigator of the Year in recognition of his involvement in the investigation of a double fatal fire in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Prior to joining ATF, Avato served the Philadelphia (PA) Police Department from 1981 to 1989 as a sergeant and police officer.  He holds a bachelor’s degree (BA) in Biology from Temple University, a bachelor’s degree (BS) in Fire Science from the University of Maryland University College, a master’s degree (MS) in Biodefense from George Mason University and a post-graduate Certificate of Intelligence Studies in Leadership and Management in the Intelligence Community from the National Intelligence University