Fire inspectors examine buildings to detect fire hazards and ensure that federal, state, and local fire codes are met. Fire investigators determine the origin and cause of fires and explosions.

Duties

Fire inspectors typically do the following:

  • Search for fire hazards
  • Ensure that buildings comply with fire codes
  • Test fire alarms, sprinklers, and other fire protection equipment
  • Inspect gasoline storage tanks and air compressors
  • Review emergency evacuation plans
  • Conduct follow-up visits when an infraction is found
  • Review building plans with developers  
  • Conduct fire and safety education programs
  • Keep detailed records that may be used in a court of law

Fire investigators typically do the following:

  • Collect and analyze evidence from scenes of fires and explosions
  • Interview witnesses
  • Reconstruct the scene of a fire or arson
  • Send evidence to laboratories to be tested for fingerprints or an accelerant
  • Analyze information with chemists, engineers, and attorneys
  • Document evidence by taking photographs and creating diagrams
  • Determine the origin and cause of a fire
  • Keep detailed records and protect evidence for use in a court of law
  • Testify in civil and criminal legal proceedings
  • Exercise police powers, such as the power of arrest, and carry a weapon

The following is an example of one type of fire inspector:

Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists assess fire hazards in both public and residential areas. They look for infractions and conditions that pose a wildfire risk and recommend ways to reduce the fire hazard. During patrols, they enforce fire regulations and report fire conditions to central command.

Work Environment

Fire inspectors and investigators held about 12,200 jobs in 2012. The vast majority worked for state and local fire departments. A few also worked for insurance companies or attorney’s offices. 

Fire inspectors and investigators work in both offices and in the field. In the field, inspectors examine public buildings, such as museums, and multifamily residential buildings, such as high-rise condominiums. They may also visit and inspect other structures, such as arenas and industrial plants.

Investigators must visit the scene where a fire has occurred.

Work Schedules

Most fire inspectors typically work during regular business hours. Because investigators must be ready to respond when a fire happens, they often work evenings, weekends, and holidays.               

Injuries and Illnesses

Fire inspectors and investigators have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. For example, it can be very dangerous to walk on structures that are unstable because they were damaged in a fire. Inhaling fumes from a fire can also result in health issues.

When working in the field, inspectors and investigators often must wear protective clothing, such as boots, gloves, and a helmet.

Education and Training

Most fire inspectors and investigators have a high school diploma and previous work experience in a fire or police department. They attend training academies and receive on-the-job training in inspection and investigation.

Fire inspectors and investigators usually must pass a background check, which may include a drug test. Most employers also require inspectors to be U.S. citizens and have a valid driver’s license.   

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Most fire inspectors and investigators are required to have work experience in a related occupation, such as firefighters or police officers. Some fire departments or law enforcement agencies require investigators to have a certain number of years within the organization or to be a certain rank, such as lieutenant or captain, before they are eligible for promotion to an inspector or investigator position.

Education

Most fire inspector and investigator jobs require a high school diploma. However, some employers prefer candidates with a 2- or 4-year degree in fire science, engineering, or chemistry.

Training

Training requirements vary by state, but programs usually include instruction in a classroom setting in addition to on-the-job training.

Classroom training often takes place at a fire or police academy over the course of several months. A variety of topics are covered, including guidelines for conducting an inspection or investigation, legal codes, courtroom procedures, protocols for handling hazardous materials and bombs, and the proper use of equipment.

In most agencies, after inspectors and investigators have finished their classroom training, they also receive on-the-job training, during which they work with a more experienced officer.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Many states have certification exams that cover information on standards established by the National Fire Protection Association. To maintain registration, many agencies require additional training for inspectors and investigators each year.

The National Fire Protection Association also offers several certifications for fire inspectors. Some jobs in the private sector require that job candidates already have these certifications.

Fire investigators may also choose to pursue certification from a nationally recognized professional association, such as the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) - Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) or the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI) - Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI). The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) also offers a CFI certification. However, this program is available only to ATF employees.

Fire investigators who work for private companies may have to obtain a private investigation license from their state.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Inspectors must clearly explain fire code violations to building and property managers. Investigators must carefully interview witnesses as part of their fact-finding mission. 

Critical-thinking skills. Inspectors must be able to recognize code violations and recommend a way to fix the problem. Investigators must be able to analyze evidence from a fire and determine a reasonable conclusion.

Detail oriented. Fire inspectors and investigators must notice details when inspecting a site for code violations or investigating the cause of a fire.

Integrity. Inspectors must be consistent in the methods they use to enforce fire codes. Investigators must be unbiased when conducting their research and when testifying as an expert witness in court.

Pay

The median annual wage for fire inspectors and investigators was $53,990 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,920, and the top 10 percent earned more than $87,400.

Most fire inspectors typically work during regular business hours. Because investigators must be ready to respond when a fire happens, they often work evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Job Outlook

Employment of fire inspectors and investigators is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.

Because local government employs about 75 percent of all fire inspectors and investigators, employment growth will be tempered as this sector is projected to grow slower than average from 2012 to 2022.

However, fire inspectors will still be needed to assess potential fire hazards in newly constructed residential, commercial, public, and other buildings in the coming decade. Fire inspectors will also be needed to ensure that existing buildings meet updated and revised federal, state, and local fire codes each year. 

Although the number of fires occurring across the country has been falling for some time, fire investigators will still be needed to determine the cause of fires and explosions.

Job Prospects

Jobseekers should expect strong competition for the limited number of available positions.

Those who have previous work experience in fire suppression, have completed some fire science education, or have training related to criminal investigation should have an advantage over candidates who do not.

For More Information

For more information about federal fire investigator jobs, visit

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

For more information about fire inspectors and investigators training, visit

National Fire Academy

For information about standards for fire inspectors and investigators, visit

National Fire Protection Association

For information about certifications, visit

International Association of Arson Investigators

National Association of Fire Investigators

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

Holland Code

Building
Organizing

Median Pay

$53,990

Projected Growth

6%

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