How to Become a Fire Investigator
WHAT DO FIRE INVESTIGATORS DO?
Simply put, fire investigators essentially perform “detective work” in fire scenes. For example, they’ll analyze and examine fire scenes after they’ve been taken care of to determine why and how they took place. Similar to a police officer, fire investigators may question witnesses to gather evidence for such scenes. The information they gather and document are used in criminal cases. Like most firefighting positions, fire investigators start their careers as firefighters and work their way up through experience, training, and education.
HOW MUCH DO FIRE INVESTIGATORS MAKE?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, fire investigators make an average annual salary of $55,400. The projected growth in this field is a mere 6%, making it a competitive profession.
A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO BECOMING A FIRE INVESTIGATOR
Step 1: Start as a firefighter at your local fire department.
Fire investigators start their career as firefighters at their local fire departments before working their way up to become a fire investigator. Entry-level firefighters are expected to suppress and extinguish fires in urban and rural areas. Fire departments will often give promotions based on time served, so the earlier you start, the better. In addition to gaining real-life experience as a firefighter, you may have to complete initial fire science training at a regional school, where you’ll learn about causes of fire, fire evacuation and suppression, alarm systems, sprinkler systems, firefighting apparatus, and hazardous materials.
Step 2: Enroll in a fire investigator training program.
Prior to becoming a fire investigator, you’ll be expected to finish a two-year investigator training program. Completion of this program will allow you to become certified and employed. New investigators are also required to finish a four-year fire science degree. The education that a fire investigator must go through includes both classroom instruction, research opportunities, and field work. Some subjects that are fair game include arson behavior, fire physics, fire protection, hazardous materials, psychology, research tools, data-keeping software, interrogation techniques, evidence gathering, forensics, public service ethics, emergency medical technician training, and more.
You’ll be ahead of the game and increase your chances of employment if you have an educational background in mechanical or civil engineering, forensic investigation, and law enforcement.
Step 3: Build your certifications and credentials.
After training, you’ll want to build as much experience and credentials as you can. For example, you may consider earning a credential from The National Association of Fire Investigators as a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator. Continuing education is a great way to stay on top of new information, techniques, and protocol, and to refresh current skills and knowledge.
Step 4: Pick up a specialty.
Fire investigators have the option of taking some fire science training to be a certified arson investigator. Arson investigators work as consultants, analyzing risks with the latest tools and techniques to plan, prevent, and suppress fires. Specialized fire investigator training gives the advantage of better job opportunities in a competitive field.
FIRE INVESTIGATOR JOB REQUIREMENTS
Aspiring fire investigators must meet the following requirements to be considered:
- Have a high school diploma or GED
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have experience as a firefighter
- Must undergo formal on-the-job training
- Be familiar with protective gear on the job
- Have an analytical thirst for problem solving
- Possess a background in engineering
- Be fit and physically capable
- Be a team player