Arson investigators, also known as fire investigators, examine the complete fire scene and determine the cause of fire. They search for evidence and document it to figure out if it was a criminal activity or not. These professionals work for state, local or federal firefighting or law enforcement agencies. They interview the witnesses as well. Arson investigators are expected to prepare reports for the police regarding their findings. They may have to testify in court as well.

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Should I Become an Arson Investigator?

Education RequiredAssociate’s degree
Major RequirementFire science or related field
License/CertificationRequired in some states
Key SkillsCritical-thinking skills, Communication skills, Physical strength, Detail orientation skills
Annual MeanSalary-(2021)-National$64,9680 (Fire inspectors and investigators)
Job Outlook (2021-2031)3% (Fire inspectors)

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Steps to Become an Arson Investigator

Step 1: Learn about the Types of Arson investigators

Arson investigators are employed in multiple fields like police departments, fire departments and insurance companies, etc. Knowing your preference will help you get the required training. Those who want to work for a public fire department will have to start as a fire fighter; while those who want to work at an insurance company may want to pursue a college degree.

Step 2: Get Training

Some people choose to become an arson investigator by beginning their career as firefighters, while others choose to pursue a college degree in a fire science or any related program. Candidates who want to take the firefighting route should at least have a high school diploma. Arson investigation classes are also organized by law enforcement programs or a police academy. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Explosive (ATF) also offers a 2-year course program called the Certified Fire Investigators (CFIs) which provides training as well.

Step 3: Seek Employment

Once all aspiring arson investigators have completed their education, they need to start finding employment in their preferred field.

Step 4: Complete a Certificate Program

Some aspiring arson investigators want to get certified by a professional organization. The US Fire Administration and the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI) offer certificate programs. Having these certificates indicates commitment and training.

Step 5: Continue Training

Once you become an arson investigator, you have to keep yourself updated with the latest technology, techniques and changes in the industry. Various organizations like the US Fire Administration and NAFI offer continuing education courses to help arson investigators stay on track.

What Are the Requirements for Becoming an Arson Investigator?

A few requirements vary with the nature of the job but there are a few common requirements as well:

  • Getting the required education
  • Becoming a Certified Fire Investigator (CFI)
  • Completing on-the-job training
  • Keeping updated with the latest changes in the field

Certifications to Become an Arson Investigator

To become an arson investigator, you will need to acquire a combination of education, experience, and certifications. The requirements may vary depending on the jurisdiction or agency you plan to work for. However, there are several widely recognized certifications that can help you become a qualified arson investigator:

IAAI-CFI (Certified Fire Investigator)

Offered by the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI), this certification demonstrates that the investigator has met a high standard of professionalism and competence in the field of fire investigation. Candidates must have a minimum of five years of experience and pass a rigorous exam to earn the IAAI-CFI certification.

NAFI-CFEI (Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator)

The National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI) offers this certification, which is designed for professionals in the fire, explosion, and origin-and-cause investigation fields. To obtain the NAFI-CFEI certification, you must pass a comprehensive exam and meet certain education and experience requirements.

NAFI-CFI (Certified Fire Investigator)

Another certification from NAFI, the CFI is intended for those who have a higher level of expertise in fire investigation. Similar to the CFEI, you must meet certain education and experience requirements, as well as pass a comprehensive exam.

CFPS (Certified Fire Protection Specialist)

Offered by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the CFPS certification is designed for professionals involved in various aspects of fire protection, including fire investigation. To become a CFPS, you must pass a comprehensive exam and meet specific education and work experience requirements.

ATF-CFI (Certified Fire Investigator):

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) provides this certification for investigators who have successfully completed the ATF’s Fire Investigator training program. It is a highly specialized certification and is typically limited to those who work for or with the ATF.

In addition to these certifications, it is important to gain knowledge and training in fire science, fire behavior, and forensic techniques. Many arson investigators also have a background in firefighting or law enforcement. Continuing education and training are crucial for staying current in the field, as techniques and technology evolve.

Training Required to Become an Arson Investigator

Becoming an arson investigator requires a combination of education, training, and experience. Although requirements may vary depending on the jurisdiction or agency you plan to work for, the following steps provide a general outline for the training and education needed to become an arson investigator:

High school diploma or GED

As a basic requirement, you will need a high school diploma or GED to pursue a career in arson investigation.

Firefighting or law enforcement experience: Many arson investigators begin their careers as firefighters or law enforcement officers, gaining valuable experience in fire response, fire suppression, and fire safety. This background helps them develop a solid understanding of fire behavior, which is essential for investigating fire-related incidents.

Post-secondary education

Although not always required, a degree in fire science, criminal justice, or a related field can be beneficial. These programs provide foundational knowledge in fire behavior, fire chemistry, fire prevention, building construction, and criminal investigation.

Arson investigation training

There are specialized arson investigation training programs available through various organizations, such as the National Fire Academy (NFA), the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). These programs offer courses on fire origin and cause determination, fire scene documentation, evidence collection, and the legal aspects of fire investigations.


As previously mentioned, obtaining certifications like IAAI-CFI, NAFI-CFEI, NAFI-CFI, or CFPS can enhance your qualifications as an arson investigator. These certifications require a combination of experience, education, and passing a comprehensive exam.

On-the-job training

Many arson investigators gain practical experience through on-the-job training, working under the guidance of experienced investigators. This hands-on experience allows you to apply the knowledge and skills acquired in training and education to real-world scenarios.

Continuing education

Fire investigation is a constantly evolving field, with new techniques and technologies emerging regularly. To stay current and maintain certifications, arson investigators often participate in ongoing training and professional development courses.

Remember, specific requirements and training paths may vary depending on your jurisdiction or the agency you wish to work for. Always research the exact requirements in your area to ensure you are adequately prepared for a career as an arson investigator.

How Long Does It Take to Become an Arson Investigator?

To become an arson investigator, students have to pursue a college degree. Some students choose to do a four-year undergraduate program, while others opt for a two-year associate degree. After completing their degree, students have to become Certified Fire Investigators (CFIs) and obtain specialized training.

How Much Can I make after becoming an Arson Investigator?

Arson Investigators have the option to work in multiple fields like police departments, insurance companies, fire departments, public and private agencies, etc. As per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual mean salary of a fire inspector and investigator was $69,680 in 2021. Salary potential would vary according to the industry of employment and credentials.