How To Become an Arson Investigator
HOW TO BECOME AN ARSON INVESTIGATOR – WHAT DO ARSON INVESTIGATORS DO?
Arson investigators are responsible for gathering evidence and ask detailed questions to determine whether or not a blaze was intentionally set. They work with witnesses to piece together the necessary information for a case, such as whether anyone saw anything unusual, how the fire was, etc. With the information gathered, they file formal reports and take extensive notes of their findings.
Some arson investigators also work as firefighters and police officers, since their job entails a lot of overlapping duties in the fire investigation scene. In addition to working with their immediate peers within the firefighting industry, they also coordinate their efforts with the criminal justice system and law enforcement agencies.
HOW MUCH DO ARSON INVESTIGATORS MAKE?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, arson investigators make an average annual salary of $58,980. The projected job growth from 2012-2022 is 6%.
A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO BECOMING AN ARSON INVESTIGATOR
Step 1: Start as a firefighter.
Whether you start as a volunteer or salaried firefighter, it’s an excellent way to gain the essential skills to thrive in the higher levels of the fire profession. Working as a firefighter will teach you the basics of fires (i.e. how they start, how to suppress and put them out), how to evacuate occupants, hazardous material handling, and more. Down the line, you’ll also learn about fire prevention and investigation.
In addition to gaining hands-on experience on the field, you should also enroll in a basic firefighter course or attend a community or four-year university to obtain an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in fire science. Employers generally prefer candidates with not only hands-on experience, but certifications or degrees in a related field as well.
Step 2: Get formal training in an arson investigator program.
After you gain some experience as a firefighter and are comfortable with the basics of firefighting, it’s time to enroll in an arson investigator training program. This program will focus on fire investigation, research, analysis, and reporting information gathered from fire scenes.
Unlike a basic fire course, the arson investigator program will train you to become familiar with forensic science and criminal investigation. Additionally, legal training takes place in the training program, allowing prospective arson investigators to work with police detectives, forensic scientists, insurance investigators, banks, courthouse staff members, toxicology lab technicians, and property owners, to name a few.
Since arson investigators often take on similar roles to those of police officers, knowledge in legal ethics and criminal procedure often comes in handy on the job.
Step 3: Get hired & advance your career with new credentials.
Just like in any profession, promotions are awarded to fire personnel after many years of service, notable accomplishments, and continued education. This is definitely the case for arson investigators, as they are encouraged to undergo advanced training to earn certifications in fire inspection and investigation. Some federal agencies that offer these certifications include the National Association of Fire Investigators and the United States Fire Administration. Once you have completed necessary training, you may apply for open jobs in the market or advance your way up from your initial firefighter position at the academy you are currently at.
Before applying for or accepting your new job, it’s important to be familiar with the duties you’ll be performing on a typical work day as an arson investigator. To paint a general picture, arson investigators may visit a fire scene after the fire has been put out to investigate and determine whether the blaze was set on purpose with flammable chemicals or occurred naturally. Additionally, they gather physical evidence through interviewing witnesses with detailed questions and take extensive photo and written records.
While it’s not an easy task to piece things back together after a blaze, well-trained arson investigators are able to determine the difference between an accidental or intentional fire to assist in bringing criminals to justice and foster community safety.
ARSON INVESTIGATOR JOB REQUIREMENTS
Aspiring arson investigators must meet the following requirements to be considered:
- Must undergo formal academy-based and on-the-job training
- Have strong communication skills
- Be familiar with how fire equipment works
- Able to make unbiased judgment
- Be fit and physically capable
- Be well-versed in all roles of a firefighter