Arson Investigator: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Arson investigators require little formal education. Learn about the training, job duties and certifications to see if this is the right career for you.

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An arson investigator surveys the scene of a fire to determine if the blaze was accidental or intentional. There is no set path for becoming an arson investigator. A degree in a related field, such as fire science, may be helpful, while sometimes on-the-job instruction is sufficient training.

Essential Information

Arson investigators are called to the scene of a fire when an intentional start is suspected. They are employed either in the public sector by police and fire departments (and other municipalities) or by insurance companies, attorneys, private investigation firms, and other organizations. Arson investigators receive their training from a variety of areas and may choose to become certified.

Required Education On-the-job training and/or degree in fire science or related field
Other Requirements Certification or licensure required in some states or for certain positions
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 5% for fire inspectors and investigators*
Mean Annual Wage (2015) $59,800 for fire inspectors and investigators*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description of an Arson Investigator

Arson investigation is part of the more complex science of fire investigation. The job of an arson investigator is to figure out whether or not a fire has been intentionally set. Some arson investigators are employed as police officers or firefighters.

Job Duties

Arson investigators gather evidence and conduct interviews concerning fires. Since they usually arrive after the fire has been extinguished, they need to ask detailed questions of witnesses and firefighters in order to gather a picture of how the fire behaved and whether anyone noticed anything unusual. They are often called to provide testimony under oath concerning their methods for gathering evidence; therefore, they must keep detailed notes on their investigations and file formal reports.

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Requirements for Becoming an Arson Investigator

Several training options exist in this area. Some police officers and firefighters are trained on the job for this specialty while others are formally educated. Volunteering at the local fire department is an excellent way to gain a feel for the job. Certifications and fire safety organization memberships are not mandated, but are highly helpful for job candidates.

School Programs

Certificate or associate's degree programs are available to prepare those without law enforcement or medical services background for a career in arson or fire investigation. Those seeking a four-year degree in criminal justice or a related area still need to obtain specific arson investigation training.

Certificate in Fire or Arson Investigation

Some universities and two-year colleges offer one- or two-year certificate programs in fire or arson investigation. Coursework includes fire analysis and investigation, fact-finding, fire dynamics, and fire-related human behavior.

Bachelor's Degree Criminal Justice

This four-year degree provides a solid grounding for working in the criminal justice system. Curriculum includes courses in sociology, criminology, criminal law, corrections, and victimology.

Bachelor's Degree in Fire Science

This program trains participants to become a firefighter, but instruction is also applicable to arson investigation. Coursework covers fire command and administration, fire investigation and inspection, fire hydraulics, fire safety, and hazardous materials.

Training Through Other Organizations

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) offers several training programs in arson and explosives investigation. The National Fire Academy, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, offers a variety of courses on arson, fire prevention, and related subjects.

Professional Organizations and Certification

Joining professional organizations and obtaining voluntary certification indicates a certain level of training and commitment to working in the field. The National Association of Fire Investigators and the International Association of Arson Investigators, Inc. both offer certifications in fire and arson investigation.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), the employment of fire inspectors and investigators is expected to grow by five percent between 2014 and 2024. The BLS also reported the mean annual salary earned by such specialists as $59,800 in May 2015.

Arson investigators need to have strong interviewing skills, and they are often required to appear in court to testify about their work investigating fire-related crimes. They might be employed in the public sector, or they may be an employee of a private investigation firm, an attorney, or an insurance company. Educational options for this job include several certificate, associate's or bachelor's degree programs, and in some states, professional licensure and/or certification is required.

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