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What is a Fire Investigator?

The following guide on how to become an arson investigator can help you decide if this is the right career choice for you. Read more to learn about becoming a fire investigator.

What Is a Fire Investigator Job Description?

Careers in fire investigation and a fire arson investigator job description involve the field of forensic science. When asking, “What does a fire investigator do?” the answer is that he or she determines the origin and the cause of a fire. A fire investigator or arson investigator answers the questions, “Where did the fire start?” and “Why did the fire start?”

What Does a Fire Investigator Do at the Fire Site?

The role of a fire or arson investigator is to identify what factors brought together the combustible material, the oxidizer and the source of ignition that started the fire.

A fire investigation officer works in dangerous conditions around burned structures or vehicles. In addition, the atmosphere usually contains contaminants that can be harmful to your health.

A fire or arson investigator also digs through debris to find burn patterns and reconstruct the fire scene.

What Academic and Investigative Courses Are Required to Become a Fire Investigator?

Since fire investigation is a forensic science, it requires many academic and investigative training. According to section 1.3.7 of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1033 Standards for Professional Qualifications of a Fire Investigator, how to become a fire investigator involves the following minimum qualifications:

  • Fire science and chemistry
  • Explosion, fluid and fire dynamics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Digital fire modeling
  • Fire investigation and analysis
  • Fire investigation methodology and technology
  • Hazardous materials
  • Failure analysis and analytics
  • Fire protection systems
  • Electrical systems
  • Physics
  • Fire dynamics
  • Data analysis

A background in these fields help fire investigators identify if a fire is natural, accidental, deliberate or undetermined.

What Does an Arson Investigator Do for Qualifying Work Experience?

Most fire investigators have prior experience as firefighters. They need a high school diploma or equivalent and receive training in fire inspection and investigation. Many employers also require an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in fire science, chemistry or engineering.

What Additional Training Is Required for Fire Investigation?

Training programs for how to become a fire investigator usually take place at a fire or police academy. The requirements for how to be an arson investigator depend on your state. 

The training includes inspection, investigation, courtroom procedures, legal codes, handling hazardous and explosive materials, and using equipment.

What Is the Typical Income for a Fire Investigator?

As of 2018, the median annual wage for fire investigators was about $63,000. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the lowest paid fire investigators earned less than $36,400 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $95,000.

The income earned depends on the industries where fire investigators work, such as local or state governments, manufacturing, schools or hospitals.

What is the Employment Outlook for Fire Investigators?

The anticipated growth for employment opportunities for fire investigators is 8 percent by 2028. Candidates who have fire science education and criminal investigation training will have the best job prospects. Taking these continuing education courses is how to become an arson investigator.

What Qualities Are Necessary to Become a Fire Investigator?

To become a fire investigation officer, the candidates need four qualities.

  1.  Excellent communication skills that allow them to question witnesses and explain any fire code violations. 
  2.  Critical thinking skills so the fire investigator can recognize violations and give solutions to the problems. 
  3.  Paying attention to details is the next quality in the fire investigator job description. A detail-oriented person notices even the smallest detail when inspecting the fire scene.
  4.  Physical strength for moving debris at the burn site is necessary for careers in fire investigation.

What Are the Required Certifications and Licenses for the Fire Arson Investigator Job Description?

The NFPA establishes most of the certification and licensing standards followed by many states on how to become a certified fire investigator and arson investigator. However, some states also require yearly training to stay certified.

Here are two of the certifications the NFPA offers on how to be an arson investigator:

Other nationally recognized certifications from the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI) and the International Association of Arson Investigators include:

If you’re wondering how to become an arson investigator, these certifications teach the skills needed for jobs in the fire forensic field.

This guide on how to become a certified fire investigator can help you with your career search and answer the question, “What does an arson investigator do?”

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