Arson Investigator: Career Profile, Job Outlook and Education Requirements

Explore the career requirements for arson investigators. Get the facts about employment and salary prospects, and find out the education and training steps to become an arson investigator to find out if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Fire & Emergency Services degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is An Arson Investigator?

Arson investigators, also known as fire inspectors and investigators, play a critical role in enforcing fire safety codes in buildings and determining the cause of fires that do occur. They meet with developers and review building plans, then conduct on-site inspections to ensure buildings meet all municipal, state and federal fire safety codes. This may include testing equipment, such as alarms and sprinklers. After determining any changes needed to bring a building up to code, they return to ensure all changes have been made. Other tasks include reviewing the storage of flammable items, such as gasoline, and holding educational fire and safety seminars. Arson investigators mount investigations after a fire or explosion to determine the cause. Following such an event, they may need to testify in court about their investigation.

Training Required Associate's degree or experience fighting fires
Education Field of Study Fire suppression, criminal justice, engineering
Key Skills Gathering evidence, creating reports, testifying
Certification Sometimes required
Job Growth (2018-28) 8% (as fast as average)*
Median Salary (May 2018) $62,510*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Arson Investigator Defined

An arson investigator is responsible for figuring out how a fire or explosion started. The investigator talks to witnesses and uses still and video cameras and other equipment to obtain evidence. If you become an arson investigator, you will then create reports explaining your conclusions. The evidence may be used in a criminal trial, if it is determined that someone intentionally started the fire. Sometimes you may be called upon to testify at the trial as an expert witness.

What Is My Job Outlook?

Employment for arson investigators and fire inspectors was expected to grow by eight percent for the period 2018-2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics ( Most were employed by local and state governments. However, jobs were expected to be competitive and those with the additional training and experience were expected to have the best advantage in obtaining a position. Salaries for arson investigators in the private sector are generally higher than for those who work for the government. The BLS reported that the middle half of arson investigators earned between $46,440 and $77,480 as of May 2018.

What Education Do I Need?

If you aspire to be an arson investigator, you should start your education in either fire fighting or through the pursuit of an associate's or bachelor's degree in fire suppression, criminal justice or engineering. Some arson investigators begin their careers in law enforcement, which gives you opportunities to develop your investigation skills. Schools and fire academies teach investigation and fire science courses. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) provides specialized training for their investigators.

In order to advance your career, you could pursue certification from the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) or the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI). The IAAI offers the Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) credential, which requires a minimum of 150 experience and education points, as well as a passing grade on the certification exam. The Fire Investigator Technician (FIT) credential from the IAAI requires an exam, at least 18 months of experience and 44 hours of supervised training. The NAFI Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI) credential requires NAFI membership, an application review and an exam.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Firefighters perform some duties that are similar to those of an arson investigator. In addition to responding to emergencies and putting out fires, firefighters may also be involved in educating the public about fire safety. Firefighters must have a high school diploma, complete emergency medical services training, pass physical and written examinations and complete fire academy training. Police and detectives also perform some tasks that are similar to arson investigators. They may be involved in an arson investigation, pursue a criminal investigation, and be required to testify in court. These law enforcement professionals typically must complete police academy training, and may benefit from having a degree in criminal justice.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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