Career as Arson Investigator

Research the educational and skill requirements needed to become an arson investigator, as well as the job description and employment and salary outlook. Read on to decide if this career is right for you.

Arson Investigator Job Description

Arson investigators work for state or local fire departments, insurance agencies or other private companies to analyze the scenes of fires to determine their causes. They collect and test evidence, reconstruct arson scenes and interview witnesses to prepare detailed reports. They may also arrest and question suspects. Arson investigators are often called on to describe their findings in court.

Arson investigators work in offices and conduct fieldwork as needed when inspecting the scene of a fire. Investigators work in shifts, which commonly last 24 hours. Because arson investigators must respond when a fire occurs, they frequently work evenings, weekends and holidays. Positions in this field are most often found in urban areas with a large number of buildings.

Arson Investigator Education Requirements

Most arson investigators are required to have a high school diploma; however, some employers may require a 2 or 4 year degree in an area such as chemistry or fire science. Many arson investigators first work as firemen or police officers and then undergo special training to become fire investigators. Courses in these training programs include inspection techniques, fire codes and courtroom procedures. Arson investigators are typically required to complete on – the – job training under experienced inspectors.

i. Training :

Training requirements vary by state, but programs usually include instruction both in a classroom setting and on the job.

Classroom training often takes place at a fire or police academy over the course of several months. A variety of topics are covered, such as guidelines for conducting an inspection or investigation, legal codes, courtroom procedures, hazardous materials and bomb protocols, and the proper use of equipment.

In most agencies, after inspectors and investigators have finished their classroom training, they must also go through on – the – job training or a probationary period, during which they work with a more experienced officer.

After completing training, applicants may need to pass an exam to become certified in their state. Tests often cover information on standards established by the National Fire Protection Association ( NFPA ). Many agencies require some additional annual training for an inspector or investigator to remain certified.

Most states also require fire investigators who work for private companies to have a private investigation license.

ii. Important Qualities :

Communication Skills : Inspectors must explain codes clearly, and investigators must carefully interview witnesses.

Critical – Thinking Skills : Inspectors must be able to recognize code violations and recommend a way to fix the problem. Investigators must be able to analyze evidence and determine a reasonable conclusion.

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

Integrity : Inspectors must be consistent in the methods they use to enforce fire codes. Investigators must be unbiased when conducting their research and when testifying as an expert witness in court.

iii. Certification :

For fire inspectors, the National Fire Protection Association offers several certifications. Some jobs in the private sector require that job candidates already have these certifications.

Fire investigators may also choose to pursue certification from a nationally recognized professional association, such as the following :

  • International Association of Arson Investigators ( IAAI ) – Certified Fire Investigator ( CFI )
  • National Association of Fire Investigators ( NAFI ) – Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator ( CFEI )
  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ( ATF ) also offers a CFI certification. However, this program is available only to ATF employees.

Licensing Requirements for Arson Investigator

Certification is required for arson investigators in some states. An exam may be required for the initial certification, while continuing education is often needed to maintain certification. In most areas, arson investigators who work for private companies must hold a private investigation license. Optional certifications are available through professional organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association and the International Association of Arson Investigators.

Skills Required for Arson Investigator

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( BLS ), arson investigators typically possess the following qualities :

  • Integrity and attention to detail to ensure that their investigations are thorough and impartial.
  • Strong deductive reasoning skills in order to analyze information and form educated opinions.
  • Ability to communicate highly technical information to individuals such as law enforcement officers, insurance agents and jurors.

Arson Investigator Employment and Salary Outlook

The employment outlook for fire inspectors and investigators, including arson investigators, was slower than the national average; according to data from the BLS, employment in this field would grow 9% from 2010 – 2020. The median annual salary for workers in this field was $53,990 in 2012.

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