An arson investigator examines fire-destroyed structures and evidence to determine the cause and origin of the fire. Programs are designed to train students to understand various origins of fires, fire investigation technologies and fire safety methods. These types of programs can be considered for those seeking careers not only as arson investigators but as firefighters or criminal investigators as well. Various credential and certification options for fire investigators are offered by national and international organizations. A high school diploma or equivalent is normally a prerequisite for these programs. Additionally, a student may be required to have relevant experience, provide their own equipment, submit immunization records and/or pass a background check.
Fire and Arson Investigation Certificate
Certificate programs in arson and fire investigation typically take 6-12 months to complete. Some schools allow credit earned to be applied toward a degree program. Many programs are intended for law enforcement or firefighting professionals seeking education or certification in fire investigation.
Arson and fire investigation programs cover fire behavior, analysis techniques and documentation. Students learn how to conduct a comprehensive investigation using industry tools and technologies. Courses teach students how to prepare for and provide appropriate court testimony regarding investigation methods and findings. Some common course topics include:
- Criminal investigation
- Fires and explosions
- Arson analysis and investigation
- Hazardous materials
- Electrical fires
- Motor vehicle fires
Associate Degree in Fire and Arson Investigation
Associate's degree programs in fire investigation and fire science prepare students to perform a wide range of tasks, including the collection of arson evidence and providing courtroom testimony. Many programs include internship components that provide students with practical, hands-on experience. Associate degrees can usually be earned in two years, and programs incorporate general education into the curricula.
By necessity of the job, arson investigators must understand the nature of fire, the engineering principles of structures affected by fire, arsonists' motivations and safety measures necessary for firefighting and investigation. Many schools offer courses within an associate degree program that offer credit toward professional, voluntary certification. Common coursework includes the following topics:
- Fire chemistry
- Fire protection systems
- Firefighting strategies
- Criminal justice and Criminal investigation
- Fire codes and inspection
- Hazardous materials
Bachelor Degree in Fire and Arson Investigation
A comprehensive foundation in fire behavior and the skills needed to analyze the origin and cause are provided within bachelor's degree curricula in fire and arson investigation. Many fire science majors also include advanced training in arson investigation. Students participate in didactic courses and practical training in order to achieve the objectives of the program. To enroll in a 4-year bachelor's degree program, applicants must have a high school diploma or the equivalent. Degree-completion programs usually take only two years to complete, and candidates need to have earned an associate's degree in a relevant field of study.
Bachelor's degree programs incorporate general education requirements with specific training in the arson investigation profession. Students study building codes and safety methods to aid in investigative procedures. Some programs include management and administration training for those seeking career advancement. Core and elective course topics include:
- Fire behavior and Fire prevention
- Building construction and Fire protection systems
- Fire, arson & explosions
- Criminal and forensic investigation
- Report writing and Emergency services
- Occupational safety and health
Popular Career Options
Certificate programs prepare students with related experience to advance in their careers. Possible positions graduates could qualify for include:
- Firefighter, Fire marshal, Fire investigator, or Fire protection inspector
- Arson investigator
- Government agent
- Building inspector
- Arson investigation detective
Career Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of fire inspector and investigator positions is expected to grow 6% from 2018-2028, which is as fast as average. The best employment prospects are expected for those with fire suppression or criminal investigation postsecondary education, though strong competition for fire inspection and investigation jobs is also expected. In May 2018, the BLS reported the mean wage for fire investigators and inspectors was $64,140 per year.
Continuing Education Information
The International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) offers Certified Fire Investigator (CFI), Fire Investigation Technician (FIT) and Evidence Collection Technician (ECT) credentials to individuals who meet education, experience and testing requirements (www.firearson.com). The FIT and ECT certifications are each valid for three years, and the CFI credential must be renewed every five years. Continuing education and experience requirements must be met to renew a certification.
Certification options are also available through the National Association of Fire Investigators. Candidates can test for Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI), Certified Fire Investigation Instructor (CFII) and Certified Vehicle Fire Investigator (CVFI) designations (www.nafi.org). Members of the organization must complete an approved training program and pass a certification exam to earn a credential. To renew, professionals must maintain their membership and participate in approved fire investigation training courses.
Examining the ruins of a fire and determining the origin and cause of the blaze falls upon the arson investigator. The investigator uses accepted criminal investigative techniques to gather and analyze the evidence and make a final recommendation or ruling as appropriate. While certificates are available, associate's and bachelor's degrees provide a higher potential for advancement within the profession.