How Do You Become a Fire Investigator?

Anyone who wants to become a fire investigator must meet their city, county and state training and competency requirements. This begins with a two- or four-year degree in fire science, continues with specialized training and concludes with professional certification.

Volunteer Locally

The first step in becoming a fire investigator is to volunteer as a local, urban or rural firefighter. This is the easiest way to start out a career because it usually comes with free training, resource support and networking opportunities. Most fire science degree programs and fire investigator training programs openly favor candidates who have already worked in the field. Many fire departments and firefighting organizations reserve exclusive career opportunities for volunteers.

Ideally, the local fire department will send volunteers to the regional or state fire academy as part of their basic training. This teaches firefighters about firefighting tools, hazardous materials, evacuation protocols, alarm systems, medical techniques and hydraulic sprinkler systems. Students will learn everything they need to know about fire causes, fire suppression, management and control factors.

Advanced Training

Almost all prospective employers have traditionally required job candidates to complete at least a two-year training program to qualify for investigator certification. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) requires candidates to complete a four-year fire science degree before becoming a fire investigator. There are many accredited and qualified fire investigator training schools. This includes both public and private organizations that offer a wide range of programs.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Fire Academy (NFA) and International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) all offer advanced training in fire investigation. These programs will combine research, field work, classroom instruction and formal coursework together. Students will learn about arson behavior, psychology and penal codes. Students learn about evidence gathering, forensic documentation, interrogation methodology and advanced fire physics.

Continue Your Education

Almost all fire investigation jobs come with a probationary period of six months to one year, which is a common practice in public departments. During this time, it is wise to earn a professional credential from private organizations. For example, the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI) offers their industry standard Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI) exam. There are also advanced certifications for Certified Vehicle Fire Investigator (CVFI), which is popular among insurance investigators, and Certified Fire Investigation Instructor (CFII), which is popular among state employees.

On the other hand, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers their own certification program for fire investigators. Because fire investigators will deal with public safety, environmental diseases and man-made emergencies, they should receive relevant training through the Emergency Management Institute of FEMA. Ongoing training and testing will be a mandatory component of all professional certifications and state licenses.

Related Resource: What is a DEA Agent?

Fire investigators inspect rooms, homes, facilities and property to detect fire hazards and ensure compliance with applicable fire codes. They are the ones who determine the origin of fires and the causes of explosions.