How to Become an Arson Investigator in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become an arson investigator. Learn about job duties, education and licensing requirements and typical salaries to find out whether this is the career for you. Schools offering Fire & Emergency Services degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is An Arson Investigator?

Arson investigators are also known as fire investigators. After a fire, they may examine the scene, take photographs and collect samples of burned wood, residue of accelerants, glass, metal and other materials. Fire investigators also interview witnesses as part of their investigation. They analyze the materials they collected and use them to help determine the cause of the fire. Arson investigators may have to prepare documents for the police regarding their findings and may also need to testify in court if a perpetrator is charged with committing arson.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree recommended
Training Required Training courses required and provided by employers, such as firefighter training or specialized law enforcement agency training
Licensing/Certification Certification may be required
Key Responsibilities Examine crime scenes; analyze evidence; testify in court; write reports; offer recommendations
Job Growth (2014-2024) 5% (for all fire inspectors and investigators)*
Median Salary (2015) $56,730 (for all fire inspectors and investigators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does an Arson Investigator Do?

After a fire arson investigators, also known as fire investigators or inspectors, examine details of the incident to determine how the fire was started. As an arson investigator you'll use specialized knowledge of the physical properties of fire to ascertain whether the fire was intentional (arson) or accidental.

Step 1: Learn About the Types of Fire Investigators

Fire investigators are employed at fire departments, police departments, insurance companies and in other fields. Knowing the type of arson investigator you want to be will help determine the training involved. If you work for a public fire or police department you'll work your way up the ranks as a firefighter.

If you want to work in the private sector such as at an insurance company, you may pursue a college program in related field. For example, to work as an arson investigator for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), you'll need to complete a 2-year program that includes studying 100 fire incidents under the supervision of experienced investigators.

Step 2: Get Training

There are two ways you can train to become an arson investigator. If you want to become a firefighter, you'll need at least a high school diploma, although some college education is preferred. Typically, you'll need to complete a basic firefighting academy or school before you will be allowed to work as a trainee or apprentice at a fire department.

Many colleges and universities offer undergraduate degrees in fire science or criminal justice. These programs include courses on fire dynamics, fire related human behavior, incendiary fire analysis, electrical fire investigation and motor vehicle fire investigation. You may take arson investigation classes through a police academy or law enforcement program. Some programs require criminal justice coursework. The ATF also offers a 2-year Certified Fire Investigators (CFIs) program.

Step 3: Seek Employment

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), fire inspectors and investigators jobs are expected to grow 5% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). The industries with the highest number of fire investigators and inspectors in May 2015 were local and state governments and investigation and security services. The states that employed the most fire investigators were Texas, New Jersey, California, Florida and Georgia, according to the BLS.

Step 4: Complete an Arson Investigation Certificate Program

You may want to pursue a certificate program that focuses on fire investigation from a professional organization. The National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI) and the U.S. Fire Administration, as well as some colleges and universities, offer certificate programs in fire inspection.

Step 5: Keep Up With Training

Once you are employed as an arson investigator you'll need to keep up with new procedures, technology and other changes in the industry. Organizations such as the NAFI and the U.S. Fire Administration offer continuing education courses to keep up your training.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Fire inspectors perform tasks related to preventing fires. They typically have prior experience as a firefighter or police officer, and may need to complete an associate's degree or bachelor's degree. They inspect buildings to ensure that they have the appropriate fire safety mechanisms in place - that sprinklers and alarms are working and that emergency exits are accessible and clearly marked.

Police and detectives typically prepare for their careers by completing police academy training, and they perform many tasks that are similar to the work arson investigators do. They may inspect crime scenes, gather evidence, interview witnesses and testify at trials. Private detectives and investigators may not need any specific postsecondary training, but many have previous law enforcement experience and most states require private detectives to be licensed. These individuals may be hired to investigate many different criminal or personal offenses.

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