A Comprehensive Guide To Becoming A Certified Fire Investigator In 2024

Can you imagine a world without specialized agents at fire scenes to assess an emergency and help civilians around it?

Fire investigators or arson investigators are fire industry agents who are highly specialized and trained in combatting fire or arson-related emergencies. They are both adept at fire science, which means they possess the required skills to ensure a smooth fire or arson investigation.

Even though the terms fire investigators and arson investigators are used interchangeably, considering most of their roles and duties overlap, there can be subtle differences between them within their roles in the fire department.

Here What We Cover

Fire investigators VS. Arson investigators

Fire investigator

In simpler terms, a fire investigator is focused on the cause and origin of the fire. In contrast, an arson investigator will try to assess and inspect the same incident from a criminal and lawful perspective to determine who is responsible for its cause.

During a fire investigation, fire investigators usually find the onset point and the pathways of fire distribution. They gather evidence, talk to witnesses, analyze the evidence, the spread patterns, loss of life, and property damage, and determine the cause of the incident, whether it was accidental or planned. Fire investigators usually work for bodies like the local fire department, insurance companies, or the private sector.

On the other hand, an arson investigation determines whether the incident was a criminal or deliberate arson attempt. The Arson Investigator’s prime objective is to find out about arson and gather physical evidence from the fire scene against the arsonists. They usually work for law enforcement bodies like the police department or the state marshal offices.

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Certified Fire Investigators | Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) is a law enforcement agency under the United Nation’s Department of Justice. This government body aims to protect communities and citizens from criminal activities and organizations that enable the illegal use and trafficking of firearms. Not just that, it also includes the use and storage of explosives illegally and any activities related to arson, bombing, terrorism, and illegal use of alcohol and tobacco products concerning causing deliberate fires.

ATF special agents are elite law enforcement officers highly trained to investigate violations of federal laws and regulations. To become a Certified Fire Investigator (CFI), investigators in fire departments must serve under ATF and have job experience for three to five years each as a special agent before being eligible to be considered for that position.

Fire Investigator Education and Training Requirements

Becoming a fire investigator requires in-depth knowledge of fire dynamics, properties, fire investigation, and fire prevention techniques. Investigators must also accurately understand fire scenes, fire suppression systems, criminal investigation, how to analyze evidence, fire investigation, and essential field work.

Although becoming a fire investigator does not require fire-related credentials, they need expertise in fire prevention, science, chemistry, physics, and other related subjects. Some employers might prefer candidates with educational requirements like a bachelor’s degree in fire science, arson, explosion, or any other related field.

There are also available community colleges that offer certification courses for explosion investigators, arson investigators, and federal agents with specialized training programs for fire administration, forensic investigation, hazardous materials, and other domains where they can enhance their professional development for working at a fire academy, for the local government, the local fire department or for the national fire protection association or departments at public sectors.

Certification Requirements For Fire Investigators

Apart from education and specialized training programs, jurisdictions require firefighters to have some job experience in firefighting or law enforcement before being certified.

Firefighters are required to obtain certification from a reputable organization, which primarily involves government bodies like the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI), the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI), or the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). These establishments provide certification courses that require firefighters to pass an examination and obtain the minimum education and experience required.

NAFI generally offers 3 kinds of certifications:

  • Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI)

  • Certified Fire Investigator Instructor (CFII)

  • Certified Vehicle Fire Investigator (CVFI)

NAFI provides certification courses via the National Certification Board and offers Fire and explosion investigation certification.

The NFPA also offers various training programs and certification courses for arson investigators. As mentioned, the ATF also provides a CFI certification program for an arson investigator, which is almost a two-year program consisting of six-week courses and fieldwork on 100 sites.

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Steps to become a fire investigator

Becoming a fire investigator does not require any fixed steps. However, following this simple flow may benefit you and your career in the long run.

Graduate high school: focusing on essential subjects like maths, chemistry, biology, physics, and other related disciplines could be helpful in a career in the fire industry.

Get a diploma (optional): Although this is not a compulsory step, some candidates may opt for an undergrad degree in fire science, criminal justice, or a related field.

Get preliminary training: A firefighter’s job is highly stressful and requires critical thinking and quick decision-making. Hence, training is an absolute necessity for them to combat such situations. Physical training and theory sessions can help candidates gain an overall perspective on assessing such intense situations briskly.

Gain work experience: obtain work experience within the fire or police department with respect to handling real-life fire investigations. You can work as a trainee or an intern, but your main objective would be to get some hands-on experience in the field. You can overshadow senior fire inspectors and investigators to learn how things are actually done.

Get trained: To become a fire investigator, you must attend training and certification programs that can prepare you for careers in the fire department. There exist certifications that are compulsorily required by hiring managers to consider someone as a certified fire investigator. Hence, ensure you have completed your essential certifications and can be employed as a certified fire investigator.

Become a certified investigator: before getting hired as a fire investigator, you will need to pass background checks, including getting a drug test done. Requirements might differ from agency to agency, so make sure you read them before applying and stay prepared accordingly.

Career Outlook for Investigators – How Much Do Fire Investigators Make?

The demand for all fire inspectors is expected to grow exponentially in the next decade. In addition, fire inspectors and investigators across the nation earn an average annual salary of $75k.


Becoming a fire investigator is gradually becoming a booming occupation in the US and is expected to rise in the coming times. Before you decide to pursue a future in the fire industry, research well about your job, the requirements, the subjects you need to specialize in, the training and specialized training courses you need to take for that, and ultimately, be serious about it. Serving in the fire industry is a serious job that requires hard work, patience, and vigorous training.

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