Become a Fire Scene Investigator: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a fire scene investigator. Research the education and career requirements, training and certification information and experience required for starting a career in fire scene investigating.

Should I Become a Fire Scene Investigator?

Fire investigators determine the cause of fires and explosions, enforce laws regarding arson and educate the public on fire safety. They collect and analyze evidence, interview witnesses, document evidence, and record their findings to be later used in legal proceedings. Fire scene investigators have a high rate of injuries and illnesses. To protect themselves, investigators must wear protective gear, including clothing, helmets and breathing apparatus. Though the majority of fire investigators work during business hours, some night or weekend shifts may be needed in order to conduct investigations in a timely manner following a fire.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma meets minimum requirements; employer's prefer candidates with an associate's or bachelor's degree
Degree Field Fire science, engineering, chemistry or related field
Experience 5 years or more
Licensure and Certification State certification may be required; voluntary certifications are also available
Key Skills Integrity, skills in communication, attention to detail and critical-thinking skills
Salary $58,980 per year (2014 average salary for all fire inspectors and investigators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), O*NET OnLine

Step 1: Become a Fire Fighter

Fire departments and community colleges offer fire fighter training programs. These programs may result in a certificate or an associate's degree. Fire departments require applicants to pass a written exam in addition to medical and physical stamina tests. Besides completing local training programs, new fire fighters may also be required to attend training sessions presented by the National Fire Academy (NFA). These courses cover topics like disaster preparedness, arson prevention, public safety and hazardous materials management. These programs can also help an aspiring fire scene investigator gain experience in the field.

Success Tip:

  • Consider earning an associate's or bachelor's degree. While a college degree is not always required, the BLS reports that employers may prefer applicants who have an associate's or bachelor's degree in fire science, engineering or a related field.

Step 2: Complete Fire Investigator Training

Even when prospective fire investigators have trained as a fire fighter, more specialized training is typically needed to advance to the job of investigator. Many states partner with the NFA to offer local training courses that last between 6 and 10 days. These training programs cover topics like fire origin investigation, interview techniques, courtroom testimony and basic fire inspection.

Step 3: Meet State Certification Requirements

In many states, fire investigators are required to pass certification exams testing their knowledge of the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) safety codes and standards. They must also stay up-to-date on current technologies and fire trends to maintain these credentials.

Success Tip:

  • Join a professional organization. Becoming active in professional organizations such as NAFI, NFPA or the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) can lead to a variety of networking and career development opportunities. Additionally, such professional organizations may offer continuing education opportunities.

Step 4: Consider Certification for Career Advancement

The National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI) offers a credential as a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI). This credential requires successful completion of an exam and a review of a candidate's qualifications. This credential is not an entry-level certification, since it attests to an investigator's advanced level of experience and professional knowledge. In addition, NAFI offers certifications for field specializations, such as Certified Vehicle Fire Investigator (CVFI).


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