Arson investigation, also known as fire investigation, is a profession that involves the evaluation of the root causes of fire or explosion. Professionals who perform tasks of analyzing the evidence at the scene of the fire, determining its origin and causes, and identifying the suspects are called arson investigators or fire investigators. Other possible job titles for this career are State Fire Marshal, Fire Marshal, and Fire & Explosion Investigator.
Arson and fire investigators may work for the state, local, federal firefighting or law enforcement agencies. They may also take up private fire investigator jobs in insurance companies or can function as self-employed consultants. Moreover, they might have to work on weekends, holidays, and in the evenings.
Education Requirements and Training for Arson and Fire Investigator
A high school diploma is a must to get trained as an arson and fire investigator. Most of the private agencies require the candidates to have at least an associate’s degree with specialized training in evidence collection and arson detection methods. However, some federal agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), require prospect fire investigators to complete a 4-year fire science degree. In some states, licensure or certification is required to attain certain firefighting positions.
License Requirements for Fire Investigators
Some states in the USA require candidates to have a license to work as a certified fire investigator. For obtaining the initial arson investigation certification, one needs to undergo training and pass an exam. Further, it is mandatory to take continuing education to maintain the certification.
The basic certification, i.e., Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI), is awarded by the National Association of Fire Investigators. Certified Vehicle Fire Investigator (CVFI) and Certified Fire Investigation Instructor (CFII) are some of the advanced levels of certifications in this field. Some organizations, such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), organize their certification programs for arson and fire investigators.
Skills Requirement to be an Arson and Fire Investigator
Besides fulfilling educational requirements, candidates who are willing to become an arson or fire investigator must also possess the following skills:
- Must be detail-oriented and possess analytical skills
- Ability to communicate and work with other professionals, such as attorneys and engineers
- Integrity, problem-solving and decision-making skills
- Critical thinking skills to identify the pros and cons of alternative approaches or solutions to problems
- Physical strength to work for long hours in case of emergencies.
How Long does it take to Become an Arson and Fire Investigator?
The timeline to become an arson and fire investigator varies depending on the degree or coursework you choose. It takes less than a year to complete basic or advanced fire investigation training programs or courses leading to certifications. Intensive arson training courses or workshops can be completed in less than two weeks.
Procedure to Become an Arson and Fire Investigator
Candidates who are willing to work as an arson investigator are expected to take rigorous training, clear the exam to obtain relevant certification, and gain work experience.
Step 1 – Obtain a High School Diploma
The basic educational requirement to be an arson and fire investigator is a high school diploma. The aspirant must be at least 18 years old to graduate from high school.
Step 2 – Gain Experience as Volunteer or Paid Firefighter
Gain on-job experience by working as a volunteer or paid firefighters. Some fire departments arrange initial fire science training to provide advancement opportunities to their employees. In this training, aspirants get familiar with hazardous materials, firefighting tools, sprinkler and hydraulic water systems, fire suppression, evacuation, alarm systems, and fire causes.
Step 3 – Complete the Training Program
Complete a 2-year investigator training program or a 4-year fire investigation degree to be eligible for certification and/or employment. The training program is divided into theoretical classes and fieldwork. The coursework covers a wide range of topics, including public service ethics, courtroom protocol, hazardous materials, arson behavior, data-keeping software, fire physics, forensic documentation methodology, fire protection, research tools, evidence gathering, and labeling etc.
Some comprehensive training programs also include fire service vehicular operations and EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) training.
Step 4 – Gain Professional Certification
Those aspirants who want to grow in their career and maintain their competitive edge must seek professional certification. They may choose from various available advanced certifications, such as:
- Certified Fire Investigator (CFI)
- Certified Vehicle Fire Investigator (CVFI)
- Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI)
- Certified Fire Inspector I and II
Step 5 – Do Specialization
A specialized fire inspector training increases your chances of employment. You may pursue specific fire science training to attain higher designations.
Online Fire Investigation Degree
If you are working as a firefighter and want to advance in your career as an arson investigator, consider pursuing an online fire investigation degree. Various institutes and organizations offer online fire investigation courses that comprise of online interactive tutorials on arson investigation procedures. However, for gaining field experience, you will have to do on-job training.
- Before enrolling in an online course, ascertain that it is accredited by the recognized board/authority.
- You need a tablet or computer along with an internet connection to take online classes.
Benefits of Studying Online
Online courses have their unique advantages over traditional courses. Some of them are:
- You can pursue an online degree along with your job. You would have learned new skills and gained more work experience by the time you complete your online training.
- Online courses offer you more flexibility as you can schedule classes as per your convenience.
- It saves your money and time on commuting. Since all the course material is available online, you can also save money on textbooks.
- Online courses let you balance your family and work commitments.
- Geographical location is not a hindrance if you pursue an online You can easily enroll in an online arson investigation program conducted by any reputed institute of another state.
How to Earn IAAI-CFI® Certification?
IAAI-CFI® certification serves as an acknowledgment for your expertise in rendering fire investigation services. Moreover, this certification establishes that you meet all the standards set by the IAAI-CFI® Committee, and have extensive field experience and theoretical knowledge. This certification program is accredited by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) and the National Board of Fire Service Professional Qualifications (Pro Board).
There are some pre-requisites that applicants are supposed to fulfill before applying for IAAI-CFI® certification.
- Achieve a minimum of 150 points on the IAAI-CFI® application, and this should be documented in experience, training, and Every point that you claim on the application must be documented by transcript, reference letter, diploma, certificate, or other certificates.
- The applicant must appear for “closed book” proctored examination and must obtain a 70% passing grade.
Procedure to Obtain the IAAI-CFI® Certification
Below is the stepwise process to earn the IAAI-CFI® certification.
1. First of all, download the IAAI-CFI® application.
2. After completing it, send it with the required application fee to IAAI (International Association of Arson Investigators Inc.).
Note: For IAAI members, the application fee is US$195, while non-members will have to pay US$570. Members of a local chapter will not be deemed as eligible for the IAAI member rate. The application fee will not be refunded.
3. The IAAI-CFI® Committee will review your application and notify you in case of any error or missing information. You will also be provided with detailed information on how to take the proctored exam if your application is approved.
Once the investigators obtain the certification, they need to renew it every 5 years. If you send your recertification application before the expiration date of your certification, you will not have to retake the exam.
Requirements to be Fulfilled for Recertification of your IAAI-CFI® Certification
- Obtain at least 50 points since the last date of certification.
- 20 points must come from training (including 2 CFITrainer.net® modules).
- 20 points from work experience.
Responsibilities and Duties of Arson and Fire Investigators
As a matter of fact, arson and fire investigators are not the first responders to a fire. Instead, they are notified of a fire hazard when the fire is suspected to be set intentionally. Below is the detailed job description of these fire specialists.
- Reviewing building plans and conducting on-site inspections to enforce state, federal and local fire safety codes in newly constructed commercial, residential and other buildings.
- Organizing educational fire and safety seminars.
- Carrying out fire and explosion investigation.
- Conducting interviews with witnesses on the scene.
- Reconstructing the scene of fire using the collected information to solve arson investigation cases.
- Analyzing the information with attorneys, engineers, and chemists.
- Processing arson forensic evidence.
- Inspecting chemical storage practices and flammable liquid.
- Preparing reports of their findings.
- Helping law enforcement agencies by testifying in court.
- Providing the evidence for insurance companies.
Benefits of Being an Arson and Fire Investigator
Fire and arson investigation is a good career choice for those who are willing to make difference in the lives of people by helping them in causalities, such as fire and explosion. As an arson investigator, you enjoy the following benefits:
- Better salary package
- Opportunity to work in various settings (private investigation organizations, insurance companies, police and fire departments, and self-employment)
- Lucrative growth opportunities
- Feeling of accomplishment.
How much does a Fire Investigator Make?
Several factors are taken into account while deciding the salary of an arson and fire investigator, such as specialization, work experience, geographic location, organization, performance etc.
As per PayScale, the average annual salary of a fire investigator as on September 4, 2018 was $58,083, and the hourly average salary was $27.
As per the statistics of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2017, the median annual and hourly earnings of these professionals were $56,670 and $27.25, respectively. Those fire investigators who were in the top 10% of earners made as much as $95,960 per annum, while those in the lowest 10% took home as little as $34,800.
Average Annual and Hourly Salary of Arson and Fire Investigators in Different States of the US
|Name of the State||Mean Annual Salary||Mean Hourly Salary|
Information Source: The BLS
From the analysis of the above table, it can be concluded that California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and Massachusetts are the top 5 paying states for the occupation of fire and arson investigation with an annual mean salary of $94,790, $86,910, $85,510, $84,110, and $76,820, respectively.
Future Job Outlook
Prospect fire investigators can expect a promising future in this field. The BLS has projected that arson investigator jobs are expected to increase 10% from 2016 to 2026. Retirements and workers leaving this profession for other reasons will be some of the significant reasons for a job opening in the future. Layoffs are uncommon, and turnover is low in this occupation. Since job openings are limited, job seekers may expect a healthy competition.
After achieving advanced certifications and obtaining relevant work experience, you can work as a fire investigation officer. According to the BLS, aspirants who have completed training in a criminal investigation or fire science education can expect the best job prospects.