After firefighters extinguish a fire, an investigation is launched to determine how it started. Fire investigators are specially trained to determine the origin and cause of fires and explosions. They may question witnesses, gather evidence, and document fire scenes. Arson investigators are trained specifically to investigate the causes of fires that are suspicious in nature.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), through a document known as “NFPA 1033, Standard for Professional Requirements for Fire Investigator,” publishes minimum requirements for the systematic knowledge, skills and abilities of a fire investigator based on a 13-point list of topics:
- Fire science
- Fire chemistry
- Fire dynamics
- Explosion dynamics
- Computer fire modeling
- Fire investigation
- Fire analysis
- Fire investigation methodology
- Fire investigation technology
- Hazardous materials
- Failure analysis and analytical tools
While some fire investigators may start out as firefighters and receive on-the-job training, most prospective fire investigators will complete at least an Associate of Applied Science program in Fire Investigation to qualify for certification and/or employment. Some federal agencies require new investigators to complete a four-year fire science degree before becoming an agent. Aspiring fire investigators may also consider attending the National Fire Academy in Maryland.
Fire investigators are certified through the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI) or the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI). Both require an application process detailing the candidate’s education, training, and experience, as well as a written examination. Certificates are valid for a period of 5 years, at which time an investigator must demonstrate continued participation in the field and a minimum amount of continuing education in order to be recertified.
Future growth in fire investigation jobs is predicted at only six percent for the years 2012-2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consequently, new jobs will be competitive and the best candidates will have firefighting experience plus specialized fire inspector training. Having a background in civil or mechanical engineering, law enforcement, or forensic investigation may prove beneficial.
A fire investigator may also choose to work in the private sector, working as a risk analyst in the insurance field or a consultant who supports the building trades with up-to-date methods in fire planning, fire prevention, and fire suppression.
For more information, see: Do You Want to Be a Fire Investigator?
See also: CFITrainer.net, the online resource for training fire investigators.
Crime Scene Investigator
Forensic Science Technician