How to Become a Fire Inspector or Investigator
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.
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 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.
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.