fire investigator

How to Become a Fire Investigator, Job Description

If you’ve seen Chicago Fire on TV or the Backdraft movie, you may have seen a portrayal of a fire investigator. These professionals determine the origin and cause of fires and explosions.  

Fire investigators visit the scene of a fire. They may be exposed to poor ventilation, smoke, fumes, and other hazardous agents.

Other Job Titles

  • Arson Division Chief
  • Arson Investigator
  • Canine Handler (K9 Handler)
  • Fire and Explosion Investigator
  • Fire Investigator
  • Fire Lieutenant
  • Fire Marshal
  • Investigator
  • Lieutenant
  • State Fire Marshal

Fire Investigator Job Duties

  • Collect and analyze evidence from scenes of fires and explosions
  • Interview witnesses
  • Reconstruct the scene of a fire or arson
  • Send evidence to laboratories to be tested for fingerprints or accelerants
  • Analyze information with chemists, engineers, and attorneys
  • Document evidence by taking photographs and creating diagrams
  • Determine the origin and cause of a fire
  • Keep detailed records and protect evidence for use in a court of law
  • Testify in civil and criminal legal proceedings
  • Exercise police powers, such as the power of arrest, and carry a weapon

Fire investigators usually work their way through the ranks as a firefighter. You’ll need a high school diploma or GED. You’ll get training on the job.

Since this is a public service job with a lot of responsibility, you’ll have to pass a background check and drug test.

Most employers require investigators to have a valid driver’s license, and be a U.S. citizen because they have police powers.


Some employers prefer cfire investigator candidates who have a 2- or 4-year degree in fire science, engineering, or chemistry.


Training requirements vary by state, but programs usually include instruction in a classroom setting in addition to on-the-job training.

Classroom training often takes place at a fire or police academy over the course of several months.

A variety of topics are covered, including guidelines for conducting an investigation, legal codes, courtroom procedures, protocols for handling hazardous and explosive materials, and the proper use of equipment.

In most agencies, after investigators have finished their classroom training, they also receive on-the-job training.

Employers, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and organizations, such as the National Fire Academy and the International Association of Arson Investigators, offer training programs in fire investigation.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Most fire investigators must have work experience as a firefighter.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Many states have certification exams that cover standards established by the National Fire Protection Association.

Many states require additional training for inspectors and investigators each year in order for them to maintain their certification.

Fire investigators may choose to get a Certified Fire Investigator certification from the International Association of Arson Investigators or the Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator certification from the National Association of Fire Investigators.

Where Fire Investigators Work

Fire investigators and inspectors held 13,710 jobs as of May 2019. The biggest employers of them are:

Industry Employment 
Local Government10,580
State Government1,130
Other Support Services 310
Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools 130
Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services 100

A Fire Investigator is a Good Job

O*NET Interest Profile

investigative job

A fire investigator is an investigative occupation that has secondary interests of realistic and conventional.

Investigative jobs are those that work with ideas, and require an extensive amount of thinking. These occupations can involve searching for facts and figuring out problems mentally.

Realistic occupations have work activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. They often deal with plants, animals, and real-world materials like wood, tools, and machinery.

Many of the occupations require working outside and do not involve a lot of paperwork or working closely with others.

Conventional jobs follow set procedures and routines. These occupations can include working with data and details more than with ideas. Usually, there is a clear line of authority to follow.

Fire Investigator Personality Type

ESTJ the Executive

The ESTJ personality type is sometimes referred to as the executive. These extroverted thinkers want to be seen as someone who follows the rules. They also have no problem making sure others follow the same rules.

ESTJs are often found in public service and government jobs where there is structure and an organized way of getting work done. These personalities shine when they can enforce the rules.

This makes being a fire investigator a natural fit. They have to be precise in their investigations and make a compelling case in the court system. Every T crossed and every I dotted.

Important Qualities for a Fire Investigator

Communication skills. Fire inspectors must clearly explain fire code violations to building and property managers. They must carefully interview witnesses as part of their factfinding mission.

Critical-thinking skills. Fire inspectors must be able to recognize code violations and recommend a way to fix the problem. They must be able to analyze evidence from a fire and come to a reasonable conclusion.

Detail oriented. Fire inspectors must notice details when inspecting a site for code violations or investigating the cause of a fire.

Physical strength. Fire investigators may have to move debris at the site of a fire in order to get a more accurate understanding of the scene.

How Much a Fire Investigator Makes

The average annual salary for a fire investigator is $64,730 as of May 2019. Half of all fire investigators made more than $61,660 a year with the top 10% of earners making more than $96,400.

Median Salaries of Fire Investigators for 50 States

Location# EmployedMedian Salary 2019
District of Columbia70$86,920
North Dakota40$61,870
New Hampshire40$60,780
South Carolina140$56,770
North Carolina450$53,780
Rhode Island70$52,660
New Jersey1,590$50,550
New Mexico50$41,200
West Virginia30$36,520

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