How to Become a Fire Inspector
Many fire inspectors and investigators have a firefighter background.
To enter the occupation, fire inspectors typically need at least a high school diploma or the equivalent and work experience as a firefighter or in a related occupation. Once hired, they typically receive on-the-job-training in inspection and investigation.
Fire inspectors usually must pass a background check, which may include a drug test. Employers also typically require that candidates have a valid driver’s license. Because of their police powers, investigators and inspectors may need to be U.S. citizens. They also may need certification.
Fire inspectors’ education requirements vary, but most need at least a high school diploma or the equivalent. Some need postsecondary instruction, such as that required for emergency medical technician (EMT) certification.
Employers may prefer to hire candidates who have a 2- or 4-year degree in fire science or a field related to the position. For example, fire investigators might have a degree in criminal justice, and forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists might have a degree in forestry or forest management. In some cases, postsecondary education may substitute for work experience.
Training requirements for fire inspectors vary. Programs are available through employers, federal agencies, and professional organizations and usually include both technical instruction and on-the-job training.
Technical instruction often takes place over several months at a fire or police academy. Topics covered include inspection or investigation processes, legal codes, courtroom procedures, hazardous and explosive materials handling protocol, and proper use of equipment.
After inspectors and investigators complete technical instruction, they typically also receive on-the-job training, during which they work with an experienced inspector or investigator.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Fire inspectors typically need several years of work experience as a firefighter or in a related occupation. For example, experience in building inspection or law enforcement may be helpful for fire inspectors and investigators, respectively, and experience in forestry or land management may be helpful for forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Requirements for licensure or certification vary by state or locality. Check with your state licensing agency or local fire department for more information.
The International Code Council and The National Fire Protection Association offer additional certification for fire inspectors.
Fire investigators also may choose to pursue more certification from a nationally recognized professional association. Among these are the Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) certification from the International Association of Arson Investigators and the Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI) certification from the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI).
The National Fire Protection Association also offers Certified Wildfire Mitigation Specialist certification for forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists.
Communication skills. Fire inspectors must clearly explain fire code violations to building and property managers. Fire investigators must thoroughly interview witnesses, including those who may be distressed or uncooperative, as part of their factfinding mission.
Critical-thinking skills. Fire investigators must be able to analyze evidence from a fire and come to a reasonable conclusion.
Detail oriented. Fire inspectors must notice minutiae when inspecting sites for code violations or fire risks or for investigating the cause of a fire.
Physical stamina. Fire investigators may be required to sort through debris at the scene of a fire for long periods, often while wearing heavy or uncomfortable protective gear.
Physical strength. Fire investigators may have to move debris at the site of a fire in order to get a more accurate understanding of the scene.
Problem-solving skills. Fire inspectors must be able to recognize code violations and fire risks and recommend a way to fix them.