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Working as a Fire Investigator

What Does a Fire Investigator Do

Fire inspectors examine buildings to detect fire hazards and ensure that federal, state, and local fire codes are met. Fire investigators determine the origin and cause of fires and explosions.


Fire inspectors typically do the following:

  • Search for fire hazards
  • Ensure that buildings comply with fire codes
  • Test fire alarms, sprinklers, and other fire protection equipment
  • Inspect gasoline storage tanks and air compressors
  • Review emergency evacuation plans
  • Conduct followup visits to make sure that infractions do not recur
  • Review building plans with developers  
  • Conduct fire and safety education programs
  • Maintain fire inspection files that may be used in a court of law
  • Administer burn permits and monitor controlled burns

Fire investigators typically do the following:

  • Collect and analyze evidence from scenes of fires and explosions
  • Interview witnesses
  • Reconstruct the scene of a fire or arson
  • Send evidence to laboratories to be tested for fingerprints or accelerants
  • Analyze information with chemists, engineers, and attorneys
  • Document evidence by taking photographs and creating diagrams
  • Determine the origin and cause of a fire
  • Keep detailed records and protect evidence for use in a court of law
  • Testify in civil and criminal legal proceedings
  • Exercise police powers, such as the power of arrest, and carry a weapon

Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists assess fire hazards in both public and residential areas. They look for fire code infractions and for conditions that pose a wildfire risk. They also recommend ways to reduce fire hazards. During patrols, they enforce fire regulations and report fire conditions to their central command center.

How To Become a Fire Investigator

Fire inspectors and investigators typically have previous work experience as a firefighter or police officer, where many have completed a postsecondary educational program for emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists typically enter the occupation with a high school diploma or equivalent.

Workers attend training academies and receive on-the-job training in inspection and investigation.

Fire inspectors and investigators usually must pass a background check, which may include a drug test. Most employers also require inspectors and investigators to have a valid driver’s license, and investigators usually need to be U.S. citizens because of their police powers.   


Because fire inspectors and investigators typically have previous work experience as a firefighter or police officer, many have completed a postsecondary educational program for emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Some employers prefer candidates with a 2- or 4-year degree in fire science, engineering, or chemistry. For those candidates interested in becoming forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists, a high school education is typically required.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Most fire inspectors and investigators are required to have work experience in a related occupation, such as firefighters or police officers. Some fire departments or law enforcement agencies require investigators to have a certain number of years within the organization or to be a certain rank, such as lieutenant or captain, before they are eligible for promotion to an inspector or investigator position. Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists also may need experience working in the fire service before being hired.


Training requirements vary by state, but programs usually include instruction in a classroom setting in addition to on-the-job training.

Classroom training often takes place at a fire or police academy over the course of several months. A variety of topics are covered, including guidelines for conducting an inspection or investigation, legal codes, courtroom procedures, protocols for handling hazardous and explosive materials, and the proper use of equipment.

In most agencies, after inspectors and investigators have finished their classroom training, they also receive on-the-job training, during which they work with a more experienced officer.

Employers, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and organizations, such as the National Fire Academy and the International Association of Arson Investigators, offer training programs in fire investigation.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Many states have certification exams that cover standards established by the National Fire Protection Association. Many states require additional training for inspectors and investigators each year in order for them to maintain their certification.

The National Fire Protection Association also offers several certifications, such as Certified Fire Inspector and Certified Fire Protection Specialist, for fire inspectors. Some jobs in the private sector require that job candidates already have these certifications.

In addition, fire investigators may choose to pursue certification from a nationally recognized professional association, such as the Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) certification from the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) or the Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI) certification from the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI). The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) also offers a CFI certification, although the program is available only to ATF employees. The process of obtaining certification can teach new skills and demonstrate competency.

Fire investigators who work for private companies may have to obtain a private investigator license from their state.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Fire inspectors must clearly explain fire code violations to building and property managers. They must carefully interview witnesses as part of their factfinding mission. 

Critical-thinking skills. Fire inspectors must be able to recognize code violations and recommend a way to fix the problem. They must be able to analyze evidence from a fire and come to a reasonable conclusion.

Detail oriented. Fire inspectors must notice details when inspecting a site for code violations or investigating the cause of a fire.

Integrity. Fire inspectors must be consistent in the methods they use to enforce fire codes. They must be unbiased when conducting their research and when testifying as an expert witness in court.

Physical strength. Fire inspectors may have to move debris at the site of a fire in order to get a more accurate understanding of the scene.

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Average Salary$51,934
Job Growth Rate8%

Fire Investigator Jobs

Fire Investigator Career Paths

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Average Salary for a Fire Investigator

Fire Investigators in America make an average salary of $51,934 per year or $25 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $73,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $36,000 per year.
Average Salary

Best Paying Cities


Recently Added Salaries

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State of Wyoming
State of Wyoming
Fire Investigator
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Colorado State
Colorado State
Fire Investigator
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King County Sheriff's Office
King County Sheriff's Office
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State of Maine, Bureau of Human Resources
State of Maine, Bureau of Human Resources

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Fire Investigator Demographics



81.2 %


12.3 %


6.5 %



72.6 %

Hispanic or Latino

13.9 %

Black or African American

7.8 %

Foreign Languages Spoken


75.0 %


25.0 %
See More Demographics

Fire Investigator Education



41.2 %


36.1 %


9.2 %

Top Colleges for Fire Investigators

1. John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York

New York, NY

In-State Tuition

2. California State University - Los Angeles

Los Angeles, CA

In-State Tuition

3. Southwest Minnesota State University

Marshall, MN

In-State Tuition

4. University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh

Oshkosh, WI

In-State Tuition

5. Worldwide Campus

Daytona Beach, FL

In-State Tuition

6. Lewis University

Romeoville, IL

In-State Tuition

7. Western Illinois University

Macomb, IL

In-State Tuition

8. Saint Thomas University

Miami Gardens, FL

In-State Tuition

9. University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Charlotte, NC

In-State Tuition

10. University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Lincoln, NE

In-State Tuition
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Entry Level Jobs For Becoming A Fire Investigator

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Top Skills For a Fire Investigator

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 43.0% of fire investigators listed nfpa on their resume, but soft skills such as empathy and physical stamina are important as well.

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Top Fire Investigator Employers

1. Progressive
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2. EFI Global
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3. G4S Compliance & Investigations
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4. United States Navy
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5. Donan Engineering
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6. Allstate
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Recently Added Fire Investigator Jobs

Updated October 2, 2020