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Fire Investigators

At a Glance

  • Examine the cause of fires
  • Analyze evidence and prepare reports
  • Have several years of related work experience
  • Work for local and state government agencies
  • Complete a formal training program

Career summary

Fire investigators determine the origin and causes of fires.

#no matching wois

Fire investigators work on cases where the cause of a fire may be arson (intentional fires) or criminal negligence (neglect of the property). Investigators take photos of fire damage. They examine fire sites and collect evidence of possible causes of fires. Fire investigators test sites and materials to get the facts straight. For example, they test burn patterns and flash points. A flash point is the lowest temperature at which a fire will start.

Fire investigators interview witnesses. They gather information about the fire, including when it started and how it burned. They talk to property owners and building occupants. They sometimes order people to go to court.

Fire investigators analyze the evidence and try to determine the causes of fires. They use air sampling machines to detect gases, or use sniffing dogs. They check wiring to see if it was improperly put together. They keep records of known arsonists in their area. They compare the arson methods in new cases against the methods these arsonists have used in the past.

Investigators prepare reports of the results of their investigations. They have the authority to issue warrants and arrest suspects. They may also testify in court about fire cases.

Some fire investigators investigate their own fire departments. They search for neglect or violation of laws by employees. Some fire investigators educate the public, particularly children, about the dangers of fire.

Related careers

This career is part of the Law, Public Safety, Corrections, and Security cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to fire investigators.

Common work activities

Fire investigators perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, fire investigators:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Fire investigators frequently:

It is important for fire investigators to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for fire investigators to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Fire investigators need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a fire investigator, you typically need to:

Education after high school

Educational requirements vary by fire department. Many fire investigators receive formal training as emergency medical technicians (EMTs). A number of colleges and universities offer courses in fire engineering, fire control, or fire science. Depending on the school, you can earn an associate or bachelor's degree in these areas.

It is becoming quite common for cities and municipalities to require that firefighters and fire investigators to have a college degree or complete equivalent coursework in key areas, such as chemistry and writing.

Work experience

Fire investigators typically have many years of experience as a firefighter or police officer.

On-the-job training

New investigators receive training in investigation techniques and procedures. Sometimes an experienced investigator or supervisor trains you. Otherwise, you attend classes at the fire academy or take college courses. Training may last up to a year.

Many fire investigators take courses at the National Fire Academy (NFA). The NFA offers courses to anyone working in fire fighting, inspection, or investigation.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Applicants must pass a written exam, and tests of physical strength, stamina, and agility. They also must pass a medical exam that may include drug screening. Exams are generally open to people who are at least 18 years of age and have a high school diploma or equivalent. Those who receive the highest scores have the best chances of getting a job. Taking community college courses in fire science may improve an applicant's chances.

Besides high scores, employers look for applicants with courage, self-discipline, and a sense of public service. Leadership qualities are important for fire investigators. College-level training may also be required. Those who enter the preparation from working as a firefighter usually have at least five or six years of experience.

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Fire inspectors and investigators (SOC 33-2021)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $25.85 $33.63 $37.52 $45.87 $56.84
Monthly $4,480 $5,828 $6,502 $7,949 $9,850
Yearly $53,780 $69,950 $78,040 $95,420 $118,220
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $33.25 $37.55 $42.99 $50.86 $61.93
Monthly $5,762 $6,507 $7,450 $8,814 $10,732
Yearly $69,172 $78,097 $89,406 $105,782 $128,810
    Vancouver Hourly $35.16 $41.32 $45.14 $49.42 $53.30
Monthly $6,093 $7,161 $7,823 $8,564 $9,237
Yearly $73,142 $85,964 $93,894 $102,777 $110,854
United States Hourly $17.50 $22.33 $30.05 $37.25 $45.83
Monthly $3,033 $3,870 $5,208 $6,455 $7,942
Yearly $36,400 $46,440 $62,510 $77,480 $95,330

Wages vary by area of the country and the investigator's level of experience and training.

Fire investigators who work full time usually receive benefits. Typical benefits include sick leave, paid vacation, health insurance, and a retirement plan. Most fire departments provide protective clothing (helmets, boots, and coats) and breathing equipment.

National wage information is not available specifically for fire investigators. However, they are part of the larger group of "fire inspectors and investigators."

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook


The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Fire Inspectors and Investigators (SOC 33-2021)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 156 7.7% 16.1% 18
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 40 7.5% 14.1% 4
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 10 10.0% 14.6% 1
    King County 37 8.1% 19.6% 4
    Pierce County 20 10.0% 15.2% 2
    Snohomish County 18 11.1% 12.4% 2
United States 13,000 5.4% 5.2% 1,300

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Growth in this occupation is expected to be about as fast as average. As the population grows, the demand for fire investigators should increase.

Competition for openings for fire investigators is expected to be strong. Turnover is low and layoffs are uncommon. Most jobs open as workers retire or leave this occupation for other reasons.

Employment and outlook information is not available specifically for fire investigators. However, they are part of the larger group of "fire inspectors and investigators."

Other resources

American Academy of Forensic Sciences (external link)
410 North 21st Street
Colorado Springs, CO 80904
International Association of Fire Fighters (external link)
1750 New York Avenue NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20006
International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services (external link)
1707 Ibis Drive
Buffalo, MN 55313
National Association of Fire Investigators (external link)
4900 Manatee Ave. West, Suite 104
Bradenton, FL 34209
National Fire Academy (external link)
16825 S. Seton Ave.
Emmitsburg, MD 21727


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Holland occupational clusters