Fire Investigators fall into the Investigative Theme Code Category of the Strong Interest Inventory®. The Strong Interest Inventory® assesses individuals’ preferences in a variety of areas to help them discover educational, career, or leisure activities which they may enjoy. Based on these preferences, individuals can get unique insights into possible future jobs. Investigative careers center on analyzing or describing data in the real world. Individuals who have a preference for Investigative careers have a proclivity for mathematics and the sciences, and enjoy working independently with a fair degree of flexibility.
Fire Investigators conduct investigations to determine how and why fires and explosions are caused. In order to do so, they examine the site of a fire to collect evidence such as fragments of metal and glass, charred wood, and accelerant residue. They bag these fragments carefully for transport to laboratories where they can be examined in more detail. They also photograph the site to document damage and evidence that could provide insight into what started the fire. They analyze this photographic and artifactual evidence to determine the most likely cause of the fire. In doing so, they test sites and materials, paying attention to burn patterns and flashpoints of materials. Once they have a reasonable suspicion, they may testify in court involving cases of suspected arson and false alarms. In such cases, Fire Investigators interview witnesses, property owners, or building occupants to obtain information and testimony. Lastly, Fire Investigators may instruct children about fire safety and best practices.
Fire Investigators use many different kinds of hardware, including hand tools (e.g., wrenches, hammers, saws, hatchets, hoes, pliers, plumb bobs), as well as meteorological equipment (e.g., anemometers, barometers), photography equipment (e.g., camera lenses and tripods, camcorders), and chemical laboratory equipment (e.g., forceps, hydrocarbons analyzers or detectors, spectrophotometers, x-ray radiography examination equipment, etc.). Because they may be working in risky situations, safety gear and police equipment such as bullet proof vests and handcuffs may also be necessary at times. In addition, scientific software (e.g., consolidated model of fire and smoke transport CFAST; Fire dynamics software FDS), as well as database user interface and query software (e.g., National Fire Incident Reporting System – NFIRS) could be useful.
Roughly 27% of Fire Investigators hold an associate’s degree, while 26% hold a post-secondary certificate. 21% have completed some college. Most Fire Investigators have a basic understanding of law and government, public safety, and chemistry, as well as other sciences. Furthermore, a mastery of written and spoken English is also important. Because Fire Investigators work in high-stress situations that often require legal knowledge, they need to make quick, confident judgments that they can support and justify using problem-solving skills. Being able to come up with multiple ideas about a given topic, as well as the ability to focus even in distracting or busy situations is also beneficial for Fire Investigators.
Fire Investigators salary, depending on their seniority, can range from $34,000 to over $90,000 annually. Even the lowest-paid Fire Investigators in fire-prone western states, such as Washington, Oregon, and Nevada, can earn over $100,000 annually, while their lowest-paid still generally earn over $50,000. On the other hand, in states like New Hampshire, their wages can dip to $30,000. Fire Investigators employment rate has remained relatively stagnant nation-wide, though some states, particularly those out west (Texas, Nevada, Colorado), are projected to increase their employment of fire investigators up to 20% before 2024.
Below are some employment trends for Fire Investigators:
- Median Fire Investigator Salary: $26.99/hour; $56,130 annually
- Employment: 12,000 employees
- Projected growth (2014-2022): Average (5% to 8%)
- Projected job openings (2014-2022): 4,300
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- Bureau of Labor Statistics wage data and 2014-2022 employment projections Onetonline.org