Sandy Burnette
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Sandy Burnette

The Sandy Burnette Memorial Service will be held on January 6th, 2018 beginning at 11:00 AM at the Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church, 3501 W. San Jose Street, Tampa, Florida.

It is with deep sadness and grief that the International Association of Arson Investigators acknowledges the passing of Guy E. "Sandy" Burnette, Jr. Sandy was a pillar of the IAAI, a tireless advocate for truth and justice in fire investigations, a brilliant attorney, a dynamic educator, and a magnificent storyteller. He generously gave of his knowledge and talents to everyone who expressed interest in fire investigation. The time and care he took to share his expertise benefitted countless IAAI members who were his students, his colleagues, and his friends.

Sandy used his gift for writing and storytelling to share his knowledge of the law, fire loss litigation, and expert witness testimony with IAAI classes, ITC attendees, and the wider audience who read his articles in publications like Fire and Arson Investigator. He authored more than 100 articles and papers on arson and fraud issues. He lectured all over the world for just about every organization committed to the goal of advancing the fire investigation profession.

When Sandy became aware of a challenge, his response was always, "How can I help?" He really meant that, no matter what the job was. In Chile, he once delivered a four-hour lecture entirely in Spanish even though simultaneous translation was available. In Panama, he spent the day before his lecture constructing and preparing a live burn site so the exercise would have the most meaning for the attendees. Whether he was speaking to a 20-year-old student or the Chief Justice of the Chilean Supreme Court, he treated everyone with respect and as a peer. It was not only his words and his intellect, but his presence and the way he carried himself that motivated people to change their own behaviors and attitudes, as well as reform the systems and institutions that underpin fire investigation and fire loss litigation. Sandy shaped the way people thought, and those people carried that influence throughout their own work, multiplying Sandy's effects on our profession many, many times over.

That attitude and his enthusiasm to do the work empowered thousands of fire investigation professionals to make better decisions at the scene and present their work clearly in court proceedings. He also gave that spirit to volunteer causes close to his heart, serving over 20 years on the Board of Directors of The Spring and Refuge House (two domestic violence and sexual assault shelters) and 10 years as a guardian ad litem for abused/neglected children.

Those who faced Sandy across a courtroom knew him as a tough, smart, fair litigator. He knew his stuff and he knew your stuff, too. No expert was left unexamined, no evidence untested, no statement unchallenged. Sandy was so widely-respected professionally that he was called on to author several arson-related statutes for the State of Florida, consult with other countries to address their fire investigations and litigation, contribute to NFPA 921, and serve as counsel for public agencies, private companies, and legal firms.

If you were really lucky, you would encounter Sandy outside a formal setting. If you did, it was a good idea to clear your calendar, because he would hold you spellbound for hours with good food, great stories, and Southern hospitality. He was truly at home with a fishing rod, a cool drink, and an enthusiastic audience. To him, the gift of friendship and collegiality was a prize worth more than the many awards he amassed over his 40-year career. That awards bookshelf was filled to overflowing. With the interFIRE VR team, Sandy received the "Silver Hammer Award" from the Office of The Vice President of the United States for reinventing government. He received the 2017 FIFEC Insurance Defense Attorney of the Year, which was then renamed in his honor. The IAAI International Chapter Award, the FACAP Scholarship for Fire Service and Law Enforcement, and the IAAI Florida Chapter Distinguished Service Award all also bear his name. He held an "AV Preeminent Attorney" rating from Martindale-Hubbell, the highest peer review rating in the legal profession.

Sandy was a member of the Florida Bar for over 30 years, admitted before all state and federal courts in Florida, the United States 5th and 11th Circuit Courts of Appeal, and the United States Supreme Court. He was past Chair of the Property Insurance Law Committee of the American Bar Association, past Ethics Chair of the Florida Defense Lawyers Association, and Past President of the Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention (FACAP). He was a Life Member of IAAI, the Florida Chapter of IAAI, FACAP, the California Conference of Arson Investigations, and the New York Fire Academy. He is a past member of the IAAI Board of Directors and the IAAI Attorneys Advisory Committee.

These are just a handful of his many contributions and accomplishments.

Beyond his sterling reputation and stellar career, his colleagues at IAAI remember Sandy most fondly for what he gave to our profession and how he gave it. He gave himself. Freely and generously. His time, his talent, his knowledge, his labor, his humor. There is no one who has been more dedicated to fire investigation than Sandy Burnette. He was the embodiment of a life well-lived. No one can take his place. We will miss his friendship, his candor, his sharp intellect, his willingness to serve, and his stories. Sandy leaves behind thousands of investigators and attorneys whose careers and contributions he shaped in person, through the written word, and from the front of the classroom. We will carry on your work, Sandy. Thank you.