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Become A Fire Investigator

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Working As A Fire Investigator

  • Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates
  • Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events
  • Getting Information
  • Performing for or Working Directly with the Public
  • Documenting/Recording Information
  • Unpleasant/Angry People

  • Stressful

  • Make Decisions

  • $82,000

    Average Salary

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.

Duties

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.

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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.   

Education

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

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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Top Skills for A Fire Investigator

  1. Physical Evidence
  2. Fire Investigations
  3. Explosion Investigations
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Complete independent fire investigations determining cause and origin for various insurance carriers.
  • Photographed fire scenes, gathered evidence, interviewed witnesses, interrogated suspects, prepared cases and testified in court.
  • Collaborated with police to investigate accidents, disasters and arson investigation calls to streamline processes.
  • Investigated and adjusted all auto, motorcycle, watercraft, RV, and travel trailer fire and theft claims.
  • Assist lead investigator in determining cause and origin of structural and vehicle fires.

Fire Investigator Demographics

Gender

Male

74.4%

Unknown

14.1%

Female

11.5%
Ethnicity

White

67.3%

Black or African American

12.6%

Hispanic or Latino

12.6%

Asian

4.7%

Unknown

2.8%
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Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

75.0%

German

25.0%

Fire Investigator Education

Schools

Columbia Southern University

15.4%

Eastern Kentucky University

10.8%

The Academy

9.2%

University of New Haven

6.2%

Bucks County Community College

4.6%

California Coast University

4.6%

Kaplan University

4.6%

University of Missouri - Columbia

4.6%

Oklahoma State University

4.6%

Gateway Technical College

4.6%

Averett University

3.1%

Arizona State University

3.1%

Saint John's University - New York

3.1%

University of Phoenix-Washington DC

3.1%

Hocking College

3.1%

Boise State University

3.1%

Webster University

3.1%

Wayne State University

3.1%

Mountain State University

3.1%

Wichita State University

3.1%
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Majors

Fire Science And Protection

33.5%

Criminal Justice

22.3%

Business

6.9%

Medical Technician

3.7%

Management

3.7%

Electrical Engineering

3.7%

Law Enforcement

3.7%

Political Science

3.2%

Public Administration

3.2%

Sociology

2.1%

Law

2.1%

Homeland Security

2.1%

Occupational Safety And Health

1.6%

Biology

1.6%

Medicine

1.1%

Electrical Engineering Technology

1.1%

Liberal Arts

1.1%

Precision Metal Working

1.1%

Photography

1.1%

Human Resources Management

1.1%
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Degrees

Bachelors

31.4%

Other

25.2%

Associate

20.7%

Masters

13.6%

Certificate

6.2%

Doctorate

1.7%

Diploma

0.8%

License

0.4%
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