What is a Fire Investigator?

A fire investigator determines the root causes of fires, establishes mitigating factors and decides whether or not the incident was a criminal act of arson. Fire investigators are familiar with emergency services, law enforcement, firefighting tactics, scientific research and detective work.

Job Description

Fire investigators will work with fire technicians, engineers and professionals to determine the origin, cause and responsibility of assigned fires. They may accept assignments from clients, such as alleged perpetrators, or assigned legal counsel, such as court judges. Fire investigators must carefully conduct fire scene examinations in safe ways and professional manners. They may secure fire scenes to ensure that spoliation and evidence contamination does not occur. Fire investigators must sometimes assist or oversee the removal of debris in order to reconstruct fire scenes.

Fire investigators identify and properly collect evidence for testing, storage and legal purposes. They document associated evidence and photograph fire scenes for uploading later to information systems and software programs. They must interview witnesses, communicate with fire and police agencies and gather public records from appropriate sources. They prepare written reports that adequately report findings that are supported by research, testing, evidence and witness testimony.

The Standard Degree

Fire investigators will have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Their degrees may be called fire science, protection, prevention or management. These degrees should be recognized as an official Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) institution by the U.S. Fire Administration. This implies that the fire science degree program will closely follow the FESHE’s curriculum that provides students with foundational skills in fire prevention, code inspection, firefighter safety, building codes and firefighting tactics.

Ideally, the fire science degree will also be accredited through the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC). A standard Bachelor of Science in Fire Science teaches students about building design, fire defense planning, fire protection structure, suppression system design and community fire services. Students learn the legal aspects of arson, the psychological effects of fire dynamics and analytical approaches to fire investigation.

Fire Investigator Classes

Some fire investigators are licensed emergency service professionals who seek certifications through accredited institutions. These fire investigators may take classes in fire behavior and combustion, so they will understand how fires spread and how they are potentially controlled. Students will learn about the nature of matter, fire components and associated chemical properties. Classes in fire protection systems will teach students about mechanical hydraulics and water supplies.

Students will learn about the methods and equipment used to effectively deliver water, foam and other extinguishing agents to fires. Classes in fire protection properties and system design will explore fire control and suppression methods, so students will learn about water sprays, mists, pipes and sprinklers. Classes in fire prevention examine standard fire avoidance measures like prevention education, safety inspection, code enforcement and post-fire investigation.

Related Resource: What is an Emergency Management Director?

The National Association of Fire Investigators and the International Association of Arson Investigators both offer certifications fore fire investigators. The most popular is the IAAI’s Certified Fire Investigator (IAAI-CFI) program. Applicants must complete an application that requires various documentation, pass a comprehensive exam and meet training, education and experience requirements.