Fire Investigator: Requirements for a Career in Fire Investigating

Fire investigators examine fire scenes after they're extinguished to establish the fire's cause and origin. They may question witnesses, gather evidence and document fire scenes. Their findings are often used in arson or criminal cases. Fire investigators may work in the private sector or for public fire and police departments at the local, state and federal levels.

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Fire Investigator Requirements

Fire investigators typically start out as fire fighters or volunteers in fire or police departments and advance with experience. While some fire investigators receive on-the-job training, many prepare for the career by completing formal training programs in fire investigation. Others pursue advancement by earning formal education in fire science or engineering.

Training Programs

Fire investigator training programs vary according to the government sector for which they prepare candidates. At the state and local levels, training is generally provided by police and fire departments. At the federal level, training is available through various agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). For example, the ATF offers exhaustive, 2-year training programs focused on fire origin, causation, safety and other investigation procedures (www.atf.gov).

National Fire Academy Training

Many aspiring fire investigators obtain training through the National Fire Academy (NFA), which offers various training courses for all government sectors at its Maryland campus. The NFA's course in fire and arson origins and causes is a 10-day program that equips trainees with the technical and scientific skills to conduct fire investigations. The curriculum covers fire physics, electrical and vehicle fires, scene documentation and interrogation techniques among other topics. Trainees also gain hands-on instruction by participating in real-life, fire investigations.

Formal Education

Those interested in becoming fire investigators may also benefit from earning formal education in fire science or engineering. Associate of Applied Science in Fire Science Technology programs are designed for students pursuing advancement in the fire service profession. Courses may include fire prevention principles, investigation methods, fire fighting tactics, emergency medical technician training, fire service administration and legal issues.

Professional Certification

Many fire investigators demonstrate professional competency by earning certification. The IAAI offers the Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) designation to applicants with at least 150 education, training and experience points (www.firearson.com). They must prove eligibility by providing diplomas, transcripts, letters of testimony and proof of work history. Candidates must also pass a certification exam with a score of 70% or higher. CFIs must renew certification every five years by earning 50 experience and training points.

Career and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates a 6% job growth for fire inspectors and investigators in the years 2012-2022. This growth is considered to be slower than the national average. In May 2013, the BLS reported that fire investigators and inspectors earned a median annual salary of $55,440.

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