Fire investigators determine the origin and causes of a fire or explosion. They examine and photograph the scene, collect evidence and interview witnesses. Fire investigators analyse information in coordination with chemists, engineers and attorneys. They exercise police powers and can testify in civil and criminal legal proceedings.
Duties and responsibilities
- Examine fire sites and photograph damage and evidence related to causes of fire or explosions
- Collect physical evidence, including charred wood, metal fragments and accelerant residue
- Dust for latent fingerprints on pieces of evidence or portions of fire scenes
- Use appropriate test equipment to establish burn patterns, flash points and other facts of the incident
- Subpoena and interview witnesses, building occupants and property owners for relevant information
- Analyse test results, witness testimony and evidence to determine cause and origin of fire or explosion
- Coordinate analysis with chemists, engineers, other law enforcement agencies and attorneys
- Package collected evidence following correct preservation and legal protocols
- Document and compile investigation results and reports, as well as records of suspected or known arsonists
- Swear out warrants, arrest and process arson suspects
- Testify in civil and criminal legal proceedings involving fires, explosions, arson, fraud and false alarms
- Conduct internal investigations to determine possible negligence or violation of laws or regulations
- Teach fire investigation techniques to other firefighter personnel
Skills and knowledge
AVERAGE WORKING HOURS
Nights, weekends, holidays occasionally
Fire investigators typically work full time during standard office hours. You may, however, be required to respond to a fire scene on nights, weekends or holidays. Most fire investigators work for local government.
Investigating the scene of a fire or explosion can put you at risk of illness or injury. You may encounter smoke, fumes, hazardous agents and structurally unstable environments. Wearing proper safety clothing and equipment can help mitigate the danger.
Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.
Bachelor’s degree in fire science
Fire investigators must have experience as a firefighter, a position which requires a high school diploma. Many firefighters also complete a postsecondary program for EMTs. Your employer may prefer that their investigators have an associate's or bachelor's degree in fire science, engineering or chemistry.
State regulations typically require some combination of classroom and on-the-job training for fire investigators. Fire and police academies, the ATF, FBI, as well as organisations like National Fire Academy and International Association of Arson Investigators, offer training programmes in investigation. Completion of classroom coursework can take several months.
Fire investigators may also be required to achieve and maintain certification, typically according to standards set by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Check with your local government to verify requirements. You may also acquire certification from national organisations like the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI).
Your first job in fire investigation may have a probationary period. As you gain more knowledge, experience and certifications, you will be eligible for roles with more responsibility. Transitioning to investigator jobs in larger cities or with federal agencies can bring on bigger challenges.
Experience and additional education can lead to supervisory or instructor roles. You may also find success by specialising as a certified arson investigator, risk analyst for insurance companies, or a consultant on fire prevention and suppression in the building trades.