Fire Investigators are responsible for examining the scene of a fire to determine its origins. Once a fire has been extinguished, it is the job of a fire investigator to identify the causes and any possible preventive measures that could have been taken beforehand.

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Put another way, fire investigators act as “detectives” at a fire site. Questioning witnesses, gathering evidence and documenting fire scenes to get to the bottom of the matter are all part of a fire investigator’s duties. Their findings may also be utilized in criminal and property damage cases.
Most fire investigators begin their careers as firefighters for their local/state departments before transitioning into an investigative role after gaining the required experience. If you feel this is the right career choice for you, then this piece will tell you everything you need to know about becoming a fire investigator in the US.

Should I Become a Fire Investigator?

As a fire investigator, you will spend time in the field as well as in the office. After evaluating fire scenes and investigating the causes of fires/explosions, you will be compiling and submitting detailed reports on your findings.
There is certainly an element of risk involved when going into burnt buildings. Helmets and protective gear are available but there is often a chance of sustaining injuries. Therefore, you need supreme physical fitness to become a fire investigator. Check out the table below for major skill and education requirements along with information about salary and career outlook.

Education-RequiredA High School Diploma, Certificate in Fire Science.
Major-RequirementFire academy training and relevant on-the-job training.
License/CertificationA license may or may not be needed depending on the state in which you want to work.
Key-SkillsSpeaking, Active Listening, Complex Problem Solving, Critical and Creative Thinking, Writing,
Oral and Written Comprehension,Flexibility of Closure
Annual-Mean-Salary-(2019)$64,730 (Fire Inspectors and Investigators)

Sources: US Bureau of Labor Statistics and O*NET OnLine

Career Requirements

To become a fire investigator, you will have to train at your local/state fire academy to learn the basics of the field. For entry, you will need at least a High School Diploma or the alternative GED (General Educational Development) Certificate. Good near vision, communication ability and physical fitness are also important considerations for selection to a fire academy training program.
After that, you will need to gain experience as a firefighting professional while continuing to train on the job for a future role as a fire investigator. Some post-secondary education, though not mandatory for many employers, will also help. To that end, you can opt for a Certificate program or an Associate/Bachelor’s degree in Fire Science, Chemistry, Fire Engineering and Criminal Justice, etc.

Steps to Become a Fire Investigator

Follow the process outlined below to become a fire investigator in the US.

Step 1: Complete the Needed Education and Join Your Local/State Fire Department

As mentioned already, starting off as a firefighter is the most common career path followed by fire investigators. In most cases, you will need just a High School Diploma or GED Certificate to enroll for basic firefighting training. However, if you decide to go for further education, then different options are available. These include Certificate programs as well as Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Fire Science or a related field.

Step 2: Undergo Fire Investigator Training

After completing firefighting training and working as a firefighter for some time, you will have to undergo specialized fire investigator training. Such programs last for about 2 years on average. On top of that, if you have a professional degree (Associate or Bachelor’s) in Fire Science, then this will help you get ahead in your career. Educational background in areas like forensics, mechanical/civil engineering, law enforcement and emergency medical technician training will also be helpful.

Step 3: Obtain a Certification

Following the completion of fire investigator training, you can start your career. As you grow and work, you should build up your credentials as much as possible. One way to do that is by obtaining professional certifications in the field. The National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI) is a major body that offers the following certifications for fire investigators.

  • Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI)
  • Certified Fire Investigator Instructor (CFII)
  • Certified Vehicle Fire Investigator (CVFI)

How Long Does It Take to Become a Fire Investigator?

The time taken may vary based on the career path that you decide to embark upon. In general, basic fire academy training takes a few months while specialized fire investigator training may last up to 2 years. If you decide to go for higher education such as an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in Fire Science, then you are looking at a timeframe of 3 to 5 years for becoming a fire investigator.

What Are the Requirements for Becoming a Fire Investigator?

The following requirements must be met to become a fire investigator.

  • At least 18 years of age.
  • A High School Diploma or GED Certificate is the minimum required education.
  • Previous firefighting experience.
  • Mandatory fire academy training and specialized fire investigation training.
  • Familiarity with fire equipment of all types.

How Much Can I Make After Becoming a Fire Investigator?

As per the records of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Fire Inspectors and Investigators had an annual mean wage of $64,730 in 2019. The median salary for the same 12-month period was $61,660.

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