Learn How to Become an Arson Investigator
Many arson and fire investigators who started off in law enforcement and with investigation experience began to specialize in fire and arson investigation by taking courses in these areas. Earning a criminal justice or related degree is often a requirement and can help you gain some of the necessary skills and knowledge you'll need to be successful. Other investigators attend academies or schools that offer programs in fire science and investigation. The ATF for example, has a special training academy for their fire investigators and arson investigators.
Earn an associates or bachelor's degree in criminal justice, fire science, engineering, science or chemistry. Criminal justice and engineering can provide you with the most relevant education for a career in fire investigation. Most police and fire departments require some college education (associate's degree) and more are starting to require a bachelor's degree. The ATF requires a four-year degree (bachelor's). Law enforcement agencies will open the door for a career in arson and fire investigation. Many fire and arson investigators recommend volunteering in your local fire department while earning your education, attend fire and arson investigation related conferences, pursue professional educational courses or certificates in fire or arson investigation and then joining as many professional organizations as possible. Some examples of professional organizations would be, the IAAI (International Association of Arson Investigators) and the (NAFI) National Association of Fire Investigators. Certificate and/or courses that are relevant to pursuing a career in fire investigation might include topics such as fire dynamics, incendiary fire, motor vehicle fire investigation, insurance and fire investigation and other related topics.
Certification for arson investigators is offered through the IAAI and termed the IAAI-CFI. Certification through the NAFI is done through the National Certification Board and offers a certification in fire and explosion investigation, certified fire investigation instructor and a certified vehicle fire investigator. Certification provides recognition for excellence in training, knowledge and sets a standard for arson investigators and fire investigators.
Arson Investigator Job Description: What You'll Do
Arson investigators are responsible for determining who started the fire, acquiring evidence that will lead to the arrest and prosecution of the suspect. Arson investigators often testify in court as expert witnesses regarding the techniques used to gather the evidence against the accused. Arson investigators also work to determine the cause and origin of the fire in many agencies, however this overlaps with much of what a fire investigator's job description is. Arson investigators work in both the private and public sectors.
Fire Investigator Job Description: What You'll Do
Fire investigators have an in-depth understanding of fire behavior and working knowledge of building construction and engineering. Fire investigators should also have an in-depth knowledge of types of fuel, the ease of ignition of each fuel and the impact of each fuel on the development of a fire. Fire investigators are required to be capable of collecting, securing, packaging and transporting physical evidence. The evidence that fire investigators collect may be used in the prosecution of an individual responsible for an intentionally set fire and can often times testify as expert witnesses at trial. A fire investigator documents fire scenes through the use of photography, so a working knowledge of still photography and videography is required. Fire investigators work for insurance companies and other private fire investigation firms. Fire investigators may also be employed by public agencies like the ATF and police or fire departments.
Arson Investigator and Fire Investigator Salaries
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2012-13 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for fire inspectors and investigators is $52,230. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors.