Fire investigators examine fire scenes after the fire is extinguished in order to determine the origin of the fire. In addition to having fire fighting experience, they also often pursue associate's degrees in fire science technology and receive training from the National Fire Academy and the International Association of Arson Investigators. Professional certification is available to those who meet the experience and education requirements and pass an exam.
What Is a Fire Investigator?
So, what is a fire investigator? Fire investigators examine fire scenes after they're extinguished to establish the fire's cause and origin. They may question witnesses, gather evidence, and document fire scenes. Their findings are often used in arson or criminal cases. Many fire investigators begin their careers as firefighters then advance to investigative positions. Fire investigators may work in the private sector or for public fire and police departments at the local, state, and federal levels.
The training options for the job may vary depending on where fire investigators are employed; on-the-job training is common for local and state investigators, while federal investigators may complete agency-sponsored training. Aspiring fire investigators may also consider attending the National Fire Academy or completing a degree program in fire science to prepare for the job. Voluntary professional certification is available for experienced fire investigators.
|Required Education||Formal training is required; options include on-the-job training, agency-sponsored training, and National Fire Academy training; relevant degree programs are also available|
|Other Requirements||Work experience in fire fighting is common|
|Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)*||6% for all fire inspectors and investigators|
|Median Salary (2019)*||$61,660 for all fire inspectors and investigators|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Become a Fire Investigator
Fire investigators typically start out as firefighters or volunteers in fire or police departments and advance with experience. While some fire investigators receive on-the-job training, many prepare for the career by completing formal training programs in fire investigation. Others pursue advancement by earning formal education in fire science or engineering.
Basic firefighter training is an important part of the firefighter investigation education requirements. It is included in the training given by fire departments is practical and comprehensive. It involves learning about what causes fires, various firefighting tools, hazardous materials, and how to deal with them, and evacuation and fire suppression methods. It also gives instruction about various sprinkler and alarm systems that are commonly encountered by firefighters.
Fire investigator training programs vary according to the government sector for which they prepare candidates. At the state and local levels, training is generally provided by police and fire departments. At the federal level, training is available through various agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). For example, the ATF offers exhaustive, 2-year training programs focused on fire origin, causation, safety, and other investigation procedures (www.atf.gov).
National Fire Academy Training
Many aspiring fire investigators obtain training through the National Fire Academy (NFA), which offers various training courses for all government sectors at its Maryland campus. The NFA's course in fire and arson origins and causes is a 10-day program that equips trainees with the technical and scientific skills to conduct fire investigations. The coursework covers a broad range of topics that are related to fire investigation and usually will include classroom work as well as fieldwork outside the classroom. There are also sometimes opportunities for research. Some of the topics covered will include:
- Psychology of arson and arson behavior
- Data storage software
- The physics of fire
- Courtroom procedures
- Forensics, labeling and gathering of evidence
In addition to the basic fire investigator education requirements, those interested in becoming fire investigators may also benefit from earning formal education in fire science. . It is also helpful to have a background in law enforcement, forensics, or civil or mechanical engineering. Associate of Applied Science in Fire Science Technology programs are designed for students pursuing advancement in the fire service profession. Courses may include fire prevention principles, investigation methods, fire fighting tactics, emergency medical technician training, fire service administration, and legal issues.
Many fire investigators demonstrate professional competency by earning certification. Certified fire investigator training is a useful learning experience that offers more specific education on how to be a fire investigator. The IAAI offers the Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) designation to applicants with at least 150 education, training, and experience points (www.firearson.com). To get certified fire investigation training, they must prove eligibility by providing diplomas, transcripts, letters of testimony, and proof of work history. Candidates must also pass a certification exam with a score of 70% or higher. CFIs must renew certification every five years by earning 50 experience and training points.
Required Skills and Work Environment
The work environment of a fire investigator may vary from a government or similar office environment to field work at various arson sites. The work environment may often be unpredictable and the fire investigator must be prepared to encounter the unexpected.
Some of the skills that a fire investigator will need include:
- Excellent communication skills
- Physical strength and stamina
- Analytic and critical thinking skills
- Attention to detail
Fire investigators will work with members of the law enforcement team and may do some shift work or work during holidays or odd hours, depending on the circumstances.
Fire Investigator Salary and Job Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates a job growth which is faster than the average, or 6%, in the years 2019-2029. In May 2019, the BLS reported that professionals in the 90th percentile or higher earned $96,400 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $38,090 or less per year.
Fire investigators investigate extinguished fire scenes to determine the cause and origin. They have many education and training options available, and most have fire fighting experience. Prospective investigators may receive a degree in fire science technology, training through the National Fire Academy, and certification with the International Association of Arson Investigators.