How to Become a Fire Investigator in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a fire investigator. Learn about job duties, certification requirements, job outlook, and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Fire & Emergency Services degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Fire Investigator?

Fire investigators identify fire hazards in a variety of structures and analyze building plans for fire code compliance. They may also examine fire-related equipment within buildings, like overhead sprinklers or smoke alarms to ensure full functionality. Some inspectors even host fire safety programs for employees or the public when needed. From analyzing information collected from lab tests to documenting evidence, fire investigators are relied upon to provide detailed records for use in the court of law and may be asked to testify in legal proceedings.

The table below outlines the general requirements for becoming a fire investigator.

Degree RequiredHigh school diploma or the equivalent
Training Required Training academy, on-the-job training and prior experience in related occupation
Certification Certification in fire and explosions from the National Fire Protection Association; Certified Fire Investigator credential from the International Association of Arson Investigators
Key Responsibilities Collects and analyzes evidence from fire scenes; determines the origin of a fire; testifies in court
Job Growth (2014-2024)6% for fire inspectors and investigators*
Average Salary (May 2015)$59,800 for fire inspectors and investigators*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Fire Investigator Do?

Fire investigators come in after a fire to evaluate the scene. Most fire investigators are also arson investigators who work with law enforcement agencies to determine the responsible party. There is no specific degree required to become a fire investigator, but taking fire education courses or receiving on-the-job training is necessary.

Step 1: Research a Fire Investigator's Career Duties and Education Requirements

A fire investigator works to determine the cause and origin of a fire and whether criminal investigation is necessary. In this role, you would collect evidence from the scene, take photographs of damages, interview witnesses and property owners and prepare investigation reports. To determine probable cause, you may examine fire suppression, fire behavior and burn patterns. If the fire was the result of arson, you may work with law enforcement personnel to identify possible suspects.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most fire investigators have at least a high school diploma and knowledge of fire suppression techniques. Training is usually acquired on the job or through formal training academies.

Step 2: Complete Fire Education Courses and Trainings

Although no degree is required to become a fire investigator, the job requires some knowledge of civil, chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering. You can acquire knowledge in these areas through formal coursework or while working in a fire department or law enforcement agency. With a background in law enforcement, you can learn how to perform searches and seizures, collect evidence, issue court testimonies and perform interrogations.

Step 3: Become Certified as a Fire Investigator

You may become a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI) by passing a certification exam offered by the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI). In order to register for this exam, you must be a member of the NAFI in good standing.

The International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) also offers a Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) credential. Membership with the IAAI is not required to take this certification exam. Obtaining a minimum of 150 points through applicable education, training or work experience is required receive the CFI credential.

Step 4: Become a Fire Investigator in the Public Sector

You may begin your career in the public sector as a fire fighter or law enforcement officer. In these roles, you would receive standard training on fire behavior and growth, fire sprinkler systems, computer modeling and criminal law. After gaining experience, you can advance to a fire investigator position working for the municipality, county or state. You can also work for federal government agencies, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Step 5: Become a Fire Investigator in the Private Sector

Some private sector fire investigators started out in the public sector or have completed an academic program in fire science or engineering. As a fire investigator in the private sector, you would generally perform services for attorneys, insurance companies or owners of fire-damaged properties.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you're unsure that becoming a fire investigator is right for you, but are still interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement, you may want to consider becoming a detective or private investigator. Detectives collect evidence from crime scenes and interview witnesses to determine the responsible party and are required by some agencies to earn a college degree in law enforcement. Private investigators offer a variety of services and search for evidence pertaining to individual, legal and financial matters. Required degrees differ per job and range from high school diploma to bachelor's degree.

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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