Fire Investigator: Career Profile, Employment Outlook, and Educational Requirements

Research what it takes to become a fire investigator. Learn about job duties, education and 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 have qualities like a discerning eye, an analytical mind and a knack for problem-solving. Their main objective is to identify the cause and origin of a fire. This career involves photographing and analyzing evidence, and interviewing witnesses. They also may serve as expert witnesses in court, particularly in incidences concerning foul play.

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

Education RequiredHigh school diploma or equivalent
Training Required On-the-job training or training academy
Key ResponsibilitiesDocuments evidence; analyzes evidence from scenes of fires; interviews witnesses; testifies in legal proceedings; has police power, such as the power to arrest; establishes the origin and cause of a fire
CertificationCertification from the National Fire Protection Association, certification from nationally recognized professional associations, such as the International Association of Arson Investigators
Job Growth (2014-2024)*5% for fire inspectors and investigators
Average Annual Salary (2015)*$59,800 for fire inspectors and investigators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Will I Do as a Fire Investigator?

A fire investigator's main objective is to identify the cause of a fire. Your specific duties include inspecting fire sites; photographing areas of fire damage; gathering fragments of metal and glass, chemical residue, charred wood and other evidence; analyzing burn patterns; interviewing witnesses, landlords and tenants about fire events; writing reports of your findings and conclusions; and maintaining investigation records and data on convicted arsonists. In many instances, you will confer and coordinate an investigation with law enforcement personnel and other authorities.

Where Could I Work?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most of your job opportunities will be with local and state government agencies (www.bls.gov). Local agencies provide the largest share of jobs. You may also find a small number of jobs with insurance industry companies and postsecondary schools. From 2014-2024, employment is expected to grow five percent. As of May 2015, the average annual salary of fire investigators was $59,800.

What Education Will I Need?

No standardized educational path has been established for fire investigators. The BLS reports that most have a high school diploma, work experience in fire suppression, formal training at fire academies and on-the-job training in inspection. Fire academy training covers fire prevention, firefighting tactics and procedures, emergency medical care, building codes and hazardous materials handling.

However, you can supplement your training with a 1-year fire investigator certificate. Certificate programs aim to improve your ability to determine the cause of fires and distinguish between those that are accidental and intentional. Courses address fire chemistry and physics, site preservation, evidence collection and arson psychology.

What Certifications Can I Earn?

The International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) and the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI) are two prominent organizations that offer a credential for fire investigators. To earn NAFI's Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CEFI), you must be a NAFI member, pass a review of your qualifications and pass the certification exam. CEFI certification is valid for five years.

IAAI's Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) is open to all investigators who can present sufficient evidence of their experience, training and education, and pass a certification exam. CFI certification is also valid for five years.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Fire investigators may choose to enter the physical aspect of fighting fires. Two alternative careers include a firefighter and EMT, both of which require at least a high school diploma, but also need to complete an extensive training program. Firefighters aim to extinguish fires and often work as EMTs, and are not involved in investigative or laboratory work. Someone interested in the general investigative field may also consider becoming a police detective or private detective. While the responsibilities vary, these careers have similar educational requirements.

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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