Fire Inspectors and Investigators

Summary

fire inspectors and investigators image
Fire investigators work at the scene of a fire to determine its cause.
Quick Facts: Fire Inspectors and Investigators
2012 Median Pay $53,990 per year
$25.96 per hour
Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation 5 years or more
On-the-job Training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2012 12,200
Job Outlook, 2012-22 6% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 800

What Fire Inspectors and Investigators Do

Fire inspectors examine buildings to detect fire hazards and ensure that federal, state, and local fire codes are met. Fire investigators determine the origin and cause of fires and explosions.

Work Environment

Fire inspectors and investigators work in both offices and in the field. Inspectors typically work during regular business hours. Because investigators must be ready to respond when a fire happens, they often work evenings, weekends, and holidays.

How to Become a Fire Inspector or Investigator

Most fire inspectors and investigators have a high school diploma and previous work experience in a fire or police department. Workers attend training academies and receive on-the-job training in inspection and investigation.

Pay

The median annual wage for fire inspectors and investigators was $53,990 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of fire inspectors and investigators is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Jobseekers should expect strong competition for the limited number of available positions.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of fire inspectors and investigators with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about fire inspectors and investigators by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Fire Inspectors and Investigators Do About this section

Fire inspectors and investigators
Fire inspectors inspect building plans to ensure that they meet fire codes.

Fire inspectors examine buildings to detect fire hazards and ensure that federal, state, and local fire codes are met. Fire investigators determine the origin and cause of fires and explosions.

Duties

Fire inspectors typically do the following:

  • Search for fire hazards
  • Ensure that buildings comply with fire codes
  • Test fire alarms, sprinklers, and other fire protection equipment
  • Inspect gasoline storage tanks and air compressors
  • Review emergency evacuation plans
  • Conduct follow-up visits when an infraction is found
  • Review building plans with developers  
  • Conduct fire and safety education programs
  • Keep detailed records that may be used in a court of law

Fire investigators typically do the following:

  • Collect and analyze evidence from scenes of fires and explosions
  • Interview witnesses
  • Reconstruct the scene of a fire or arson
  • Send evidence to laboratories to be tested for fingerprints or an accelerant
  • Analyze information with chemists, engineers, and attorneys
  • Document evidence by taking photographs and creating diagrams
  • Determine the origin and cause of a fire
  • Keep detailed records and protect evidence for use in a court of law
  • Testify in civil and criminal legal proceedings
  • Exercise police powers, such as the power of arrest, and carry a weapon

Fire inspectors review buildings and structures to ensure there are no hazards that create an unnecessary risk of fire. They also check systems, such as sprinklers, alarms, and exit procedures, that would limit the damage to people and property were a fire to occur. If a fire does happen, a fire investigator will use burn patterns, video recordings, interviews, and other evidence to try to find out how and why a fire started. Fire investigators are important for criminal and insurance purposes relating to a fire.

Work Environment About this section

Fire inspectors and investigators
Fire investigators often work in the field when determining the origin and cause of a fire.

Fire inspectors and investigators held about 12,200 jobs in 2012. The vast majority worked for state and local fire departments. A few also worked for insurance companies or attorney’s offices. 

Fire inspectors and investigators work in both offices and in the field. In the field, inspectors examine public buildings, such as museums, and multifamily residential buildings, such as high-rise condominiums. They may also visit and inspect other structures, such as arenas and industrial plants.

Investigators must visit the scene where a fire has occurred.

Work Schedules

Most fire inspectors typically work during regular business hours. Because investigators must be ready to respond when a fire happens, they often work evenings, weekends, and holidays.               

Injuries and Illnesses

Fire inspectors and investigators have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. For example, it can be very dangerous to walk on structures that are unstable because they were damaged in a fire. Inhaling fumes from a fire can also result in health issues.

When working in the field, inspectors and investigators often must wear protective clothing, such as boots, gloves, and a helmet.

How to Become a Fire Inspector or Investigator About this section

Fire inspectors and investigators
Many fire inspectors and investigators have a background in fire suppression.

Most fire inspectors and investigators have a high school diploma and previous work experience in a fire or police department. They attend training academies and receive on-the-job training in inspection and investigation.

Fire inspectors and investigators usually must pass a background check, which may include a drug test. Most employers also require inspectors to be U.S. citizens and have a valid driver’s license.   

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Most fire inspectors and investigators are required to have work experience in a related occupation, such as firefighters or police officers. Some fire departments or law enforcement agencies require investigators to have a certain number of years within the organization or to be a certain rank, such as lieutenant or captain, before they are eligible for promotion to an inspector or investigator position.

Education

Most fire inspector and investigator jobs require a high school diploma. However, some employers prefer candidates with a 2- or 4-year degree in fire science, engineering, or chemistry.

Training

Training requirements vary by state, but programs usually include instruction in a classroom setting in addition to on-the-job training.

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

In most agencies, after inspectors and investigators have finished their classroom training, they also receive on-the-job training, during which they work with a more experienced officer.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Many states have certification exams that cover information on standards established by the National Fire Protection Association. To maintain registration, many agencies require additional training for inspectors and investigators each year.

The National Fire Protection Association also offers several certifications for fire inspectors. 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 International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) - Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) or the 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.

Fire investigators who work for private companies may have to obtain a private investigation license from their state.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Inspectors must clearly explain fire code violations to building and property managers. Investigators must carefully interview witnesses as part of their fact-finding mission. 

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 from a fire 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.

Pay About this section

Fire Inspectors and Investigators

Median annual wages, May 2012

Fire inspectors and investigators

$53,990

Protective service occupations

$36,620

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for fire inspectors and investigators was $53,990 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,920, and the top 10 percent earned more than $87,400.

Most fire inspectors typically work during regular business hours. Because investigators must be ready to respond when a fire happens, they often work evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Job Outlook About this section

Fire Inspectors and Investigators

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Protective service occupations

8%

Fire inspectors and investigators

6%

 

Employment of fire inspectors and investigators is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.

Because local government employs about 75 percent of all fire inspectors and investigators, employment growth will be tempered as this sector is projected to grow slower than average from 2012 to 2022.

However, fire inspectors will still be needed to assess potential fire hazards in newly constructed residential, commercial, public, and other buildings in the coming decade. Fire inspectors will also be needed to ensure that existing buildings meet updated and revised federal, state, and local fire codes each year. 

Although the number of fires occurring across the country has been falling for some time, fire investigators will still be needed to determine the cause of fires and explosions.

Job Prospects

Jobseekers should expect strong competition for the limited number of available positions.

Those who have previous work experience in fire suppression, have completed some fire science education, or have training related to criminal investigation should have an advantage over candidates who do not.

Employment projections data for fire inspectors and investigators, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Fire inspectors and investigators

33-2021 12,200 13,000 6 800 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of fire inspectors and investigators.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Firefighters

Firefighters

Firefighters control fires and respond to other emergencies, including medical emergencies.

Postsecondary non-degree award $45,250
Private detectives and investigators

Private Detectives and Investigators

Private detectives and investigators find facts and analyze information about legal, financial, and personal matters. They offer many services, including verifying people's backgrounds, finding missing persons, and investigating computer crimes.

High school diploma or equivalent $45,740
Police and detectives

Police and Detectives

Police officers protect lives and property. Detectives and criminal investigators, who are sometimes called agents or special agents, gather facts and collect evidence of possible crimes.

High school diploma or equivalent $56,980

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about federal fire investigator jobs, visit

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

For more information about fire inspectors and investigators training, visit

National Fire Academy

For information about standards for fire inspectors and investigators, visit

National Fire Protection Association

For information about certifications, visit

International Association of Arson Investigators

National Association of Fire Investigators

O*NET

Fire Inspectors and Investigators

Fire Investigators

Fire Inspectors

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Fire Inspectors and Investigators,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/fire-inspectors-and-investigators.htm (visited November 23, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014