How to Become a Fire Investigator – In 5 Steps

After the tragedy of a fire, someone must come to the scene and try to figure out the cause of the fire.

That is the job of a Fire Investigator.

Fire Investigator

A thorough investigation is done for insurance purposes or to ensure that the fire was not started for malicious reasons.

Fire Investigators look through every aspect of the destruction to try and understand how the fire started if anyone caused the fire, and bring evidence to a courtroom if needed.

This job requires investigative skills and understanding the mechanics of fire which can be a long and arduous road, but worth it in the end.

Job Description

After a fire has been extinguished and everyone involved has been found, a Fire Investigator will come to the scene of the fire and figure out the cause of the incident.

Determining what happened in the case of a fire is important, and a Fire Investigator has many duties to complete, such as:

  • Document the discovery of the fire
  • Speak to the fire discoverer
  • Document the conditions after the fire
  • Document how the fire was extinguished and the condition of the area after
  • Investigate and examine the fire scene
  • Create diagrams of the scene
  • Create video and take photos for possible criminal investigation
  • Complete computer graphic images

It is important to document every aspect of the fire scene.


In the United States, a Fire Investigator can make about $65,800 on average each year.

This comes out to about $31.63 per hour or $1,265.20 per week for those who work full-time.

Those at the top of their career can make upwards of $142,668 per year in some areas.

With that salary, the average hourly wage for a Fire Investigator is $68 or $2,743 per week.

You could make quite a living with a career as a Fire Investigator and with proper education and licensing, you could become one of the highest paid in the field.

Salary Information by State

State Employed Avg. Annual Salary Avg. Hourly Pay Top 10% Annual Salary Bottom 10% Annual Salary
Florida2,400- NA -- NA -- NA -- NA -
New Hampshire60$68,600$32.98$86,570$47,720
New Jersey1,100$69,370$33.35$97,720$46,950
New Mexico30$56,160$27.00$72,460$38,160
New York1,320$73,140$35.17$100,970$50,040
North Carolina520$59,600$28.65$78,200$39,820
North Dakota30$72,960$35.08$84,500$62,210
Rhode Island50$66,070$31.76$90,700$49,820
South Carolina150$52,620$25.30$69,530$38,560
West Virginia50$44,950$21.61$53,290$33,530

Annual Average Salary: Top 10 States

The top earning state in the field is Oregon, where the average salary is $103,680.

These are the top 10 earning states in the field:

  • Oregon - $103,680
  • Washington - $102,290
  • Idaho - $99,930
  • California - $92,180
  • Illinois - $86,410
  • Iowa - $85,660
  • Nevada - $83,200
  • Colorado - $82,620
  • Ohio - $80,600
  • Minnesota - $78,520
* Salary information based on the May 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Fire Inspectors and Investigators, OCC Code 33-2021, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become a Fire Investigator

1. Complete High School

The first step toward a future career as a Fire Investigator is to finish four years of high school and graduate.

This will set you up for a path of success no matter your career endeavors.

High school can be completed during your teenage years, and you will be able to study relevant topics like chemistry, physics, computer science, and even most math classes, which will help you get a head start.

If you are over eighteen and do not have your high school diploma, you can earn a GED by taking an exam that will help determine if you know everything necessary to graduate from high school.

2. Earn an Associates Degree

One of the options for education when looking into becoming a Fire Investigator is to go to a community college or university to earn an Associate’s degree, which will take about two years.

Relevant programs that you could look into when considering an Associate’s degree are:

  • Fire Science
  • Forensic science
  • Chemistry
  • Engineering

There is no formal degree to become a Fire Investigator, but anything relevant can give you a leg up when considering positions in this field.

With the knowledge gained through higher education, you will be able to understand the complexities of how a fire starts, why it starts, and how to get it to go out at the atomic level.

3. Gain Experience

Those who don’t plan to go to college or want to get started in the career right away can consider a position as a firefighter.

There are options within your current town, or even around other cities, that provide basic training to those looking to fight fires.

You can become a paid or volunteer firefighter, depending on the options available in your area.

Paid firefighters are given compensation for their time and often can work a 24-hour shift, while volunteer firefighters don’t get paid or get paid a minimum wage and are on call.

Through the firefighter experience, you will have access to the fire academy, which will teach you all the necessary knowledge needed to fight fires like the causes of a fire, how fire alarms work, how to get yourself, your partner, and the victims safely out of burning buildings, how sprinkler systems and hoses work, as well as fire suppression.

All of this experience can help you when you want to take a step toward becoming a Fire Investigator.

The more experience you have in the field, the better understanding you will have of how fires start and what can be done to prevent them.

4. Complete a Training Program

After your experience as a firefighter or earning an Associate’s degree, you are now ready to find training to become a Fire Investigator.

This can be done through the local fire department, National Fire Academy, or the ATF.

Most training programs will take about two years to complete.

Within your time here, you will study topics that range from fire protection, hazardous materials, forensic documentation, interrogation techniques, and much more.

Some training programs will even allow you to complete an internship so that you can learn face-to-face how fire investigation works from beginning to end.

Others will require a probationary period where you will need to work with a senior Fire Investigator to ensure that you are doing everything needed to get the answers.

The more exposure you have while studying and working with others, the easier it will be to do fire investigations on your own.

5. Become Certified

Once you have established that you want to be a Fire Investigator and have some experience on the job, you can look into becoming certified.

You will want to make sure that the certification you receive is accredited through an agency such as the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications, the National Association of Fire Investigators, or the National Fire Protection Association.

After determining the legitimacy of your training, you can begin the two-part process of becoming a Certified Fire Investigator.

First, you will need to take classes so that you understand all possible needs and outcomes of investigating a fire.

This can be done online or in person, depending on where you go to become certified.

Then, you will need to complete an exam that has 100 multiple-choice questions.

You will have two hours to complete the exam and will need to have a 75% or better in order to pass.

An email will be sent to you with your exam results, and if you pass, you are considered a Certified Fire Investigator and can wear the credentials proudly.


Before you consider working as a Fire Investigator, you will need to graduate from high school or possess a GED.

A GED can be acquired when you take an exam at a community college or local adult education center.

Then, the minimum education that you need to become a Fire Investigator comes from the experience taught while working as a firefighter.

You can become a firefighter when you turn eighteen, where you will learn on-the-job training through helping people with medical issues, accidents, fire emergencies, and much more.

If you want to go a different route, it is also possible to access higher education to up your knowledge through a community college or even a university where you can earn an Associate’s degree in a relevant field.

An Associate’s degree will take about two years to complete, and you can even go to school while working as a firefighter.

You will gain both book smarts and street smarts if you complete this path.

Once you have gained experience as a firefighter and are ready to extend your knowledge to victims as a Fire Investigator, then you will need additional training.

It will take about two years to gain all the knowledge needed to be a successful Fire Investigator.

Training can be given through your local fire department, community college, or other learning facilities that are accredited.

Within this time, you’ll learn how to discover where fires have started, why they started, and even deduce if someone started them maliciously.

This type of training is important and will lead you toward a long-lasting career in emergency services.

Once you complete training and have experience as a firefighter and Fire Investigator, you may want to consider certification, which will give you more proficiency in the field and allow you the opportunity to work with more people.

Licensing and Certification

In order to work as a Fire Investigator, you won’t need to be certified in most states but it will help when looking for work since it shows initiative and complex understanding of the field.

There are quite a few ways to become certified, you can talk to your local fire chief, find an accredited program on the internet, or even go through your local community college or university.

A certification program will take some time to finish, as there are many bases to cover and tons of information to learn.

You will want to make sure that your certification classes are accredited and teach topics that include:

  • Arson behavior
  • Courtroom protocol
  • Evidence collecting
  • Interrogation techniques
  • How to document findings
  • Forensic detective work
  • Public service ethics

Some certification programs may require that you have at least three years of experience in law enforcement before you are able to complete certification.

Once you are ready, expect to stay about two years in the program, where you will have experiences such as:

  • Investigating over 100 fires
  • Creating research papers
  • Taking exams
  • Working with ATF agents
  • Take on training courses
  • Author origin and cause reports

Earning certification is a tedious task and should be done by those who are serious about taking the next steps in their career.

Completion of the above experiences will lead you toward an exam that you will need to pass in order to become certified.

This exam consists of 100 random multiple-choice questions, and you will need to get at least a 75% score in order to pass.

An email will be sent to you once the tests have been scored, and if you pass, you will be considered a certified Fire Investigator.

After certification, you will need to attend an annual refresher training to keep up to date with your credentials.

Job Outlook

The outlook for careers as a Fire Investigator is great.

In the next ten years, the Fire Investigator career will likely grow by around five percent.

This is faster than many other careers in the same field and even faster than most careers overall.

Considering that many Fire Investigators will retire or look for other employment in that time, there are likely going to be many new spots opening up in the future.

Unfortunately, there will always be fires and a need for fire investigation, so this is a promising career to look into.

Nearly 1,600 new careers will likely be added each year to this occupation.

Should you become 380-480 words

Overall Satisfaction

Many Fire Investigators find their careers to be difficult, however, they believe that they are fairly compensated and do good work that helps others.

It may be a hard road to get there, but it can be a satisfying career to work as a Fire Investigator if you have the correct mindset and personality.

Using their knowledge and building on skills they have acquired over the years helps Fire Investigators see their careers as meaningful and necessary.

Average Salary

The average salary for a Fire Investigator in the United States is $65,800.

Those who live in larger cities with more people impacted by fires may make more, and experience can play into how much you earn each year.

Those who work full-time will likely make more money than part-time Fire Investigators.

The most a Fire Investigator makes is around $143,000 per year in this country, which is usually obtained after years of experience and certification in the field.

Job Growth Outlook

You will certainly have an easy time finding a career as a Fire Investigator over the next ten years.

That is because there will be a rise of about five percent throughout the United States for this career.

This is due to retirements, switching careers, and positions within the field.

In fact, the increasing number of openings as a Fire Investigator is more likely than any other career in the same field.

Look for fire departments and law enforcement offices that have a large area to cover, this will provide more chances for open positions.

Education Duration

Working as a Fire Investigator means that you will need to be educated in all aspects of the career.

An education can take anywhere from two to four years and requires both classroom time and on-the-job training.

This can be done through the fire department or even a community college.

Then, you will need to do extra training to enroll in the Fire Investigator program, a two-year commitment.

It will be about 4-6 years before you can begin work as a Fire Investigator full-time on your own.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do you have to go to school to become a Fire Investigator?

While there are several ways you can go about becoming a Fire Investigator, it will take anywhere from two to four years to gain enough experience and knowledge to work in this role.

You can either begin your journey as a firefighter and work your way up the ranks with experience and education, or you can start out earning an Associate’s degree which will take about two years.

Becoming a Fire Investigator is a long road, but you need to know quite a bit of information and other people’s livelihood will be of the utmost importance, which is why you will need several years of education and experience.

How much money does a Fire Investigator make a year?

If you work in the United States as a Fire Investigator, you should expect to make anywhere from $35,400 to over $142,000 each year with the average wage being around $65,800.

All of this depends on where you live in the country and if you work full-time or part-time as well as other circumstances like how often fires happen in your area.

What kind of education do you need to be a Fire Investigator?

It is not a requirement to begin your journey as a Fire Investigator by completing a two-year degree, however, you should consider enrolling in a program so that you can learn as much as possible about the chemical and physical aspects of fire.

A training program or college education can take anywhere from two to four years.

Training programs will allow you to work with other people in the field and also help you gain hands-on experience.

Learning at a community college or university will give you the higher education needed to understand a vast array of information.

Are Fire Investigators in high demand?

Yes, this is a career that is in high demand, since fires will continue to be an issue that happens throughout the fifty states, and there will always be a need for people to investigate how they started and why.

This job is likely to grow around 5 percent over the next ten years, which is higher than many other careers in the same field.

What skills do you need to have to be Fire Investigator?

In order to succeed in this career, you’ll want to have reasoning skills, listening skills, the ability to deduce clues and evidence with your eyes and ears, as well as a basic understanding of the chemical and physical aspects of fire.

Experience in the fire department or other law enforcement is a big help when it comes to success as a Fire Investigator.

Chelsea Wilson

About Chelsea Wilson

Chelsea Wilson is the Community Relations Manager for Washington University School of Law’s distance learning LLM degree program, which provides foreign trained attorneys with the opportunity to earn a Master of Laws degree from a top-tier American university from anywhere in the world.

Leave a Reply

Search Programs