Arson Investigator Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a career in arson investigation? See real job duties and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an arson investigator is right for you.
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Pros and Cons: Arson Investigator

Arson investigators, also known as fire investigators, help determine the cause of a fire. Read below to learn about the other ups and downs of being an arson investigator.

PROS: Arson Investigator
Higher-than-average pay ($56,130 median annual salary in May 2014)*
May have an advantage in finding employment if you have training in criminal investigation*
Safety equipment is normally provided by the employer*
Job includes time away from your desk (visiting fire scenes)*
Job training provided by many employers*

CONS: Arson Investigator
Holiday, weekend and evening hours are normal for arson investigators*
Arson investigators might have 24-hour work shifts*
Limited positions mean job competition is common for arson investigators*
Work conditions can sometimes be dangerous when structures are damaged by fires*
A 2- or 4-year degree may be required for some positions*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

After arriving at the scene of a fire, you'll perform a preliminary examination of the area. As you comb over the location, you'll collect evidence to investigate further later on. You might take pictures or video of the scene. If there were any witnesses, you'll interview them to see if they have any helpful or suspicious information. The goal of your work is to figure out the cause and origin of a fire. You want to determine if someone deliberately set the fire in order to prove if it was arson or not. If necessary, you might present your evidence in a court of law and testify as part of legal proceedings.

Salary Information

In May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that fire inspectors and investigators earned a median hourly wage of $26.99, resulting in a median annual salary of $56,130 (www.bls.gov). The top ten percentile wage estimate for arson investigators was $90,330. Washington, California, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Nevada were the top-paying states for arson investigators. The most lucrative industry was aerospace product and parts manufacturing, which paid a mean annual wage of $70,360.

Job Requirements

Training and Education

In some cases, you might be able to get by with just a GED or high school diploma, but employers tend to prefer arson investigators that have taken the time to acquire a postsecondary degree. A major in engineering, chemistry or fire science is ideal. Generally, an associate's degree or bachelor's degree should be all you need.

The training requirements for arson investigators differ in each state. As part of your training, you'll receive instruction on-the-job and in a classroom at a fire academy. Explosion investigation, fire prevention, hazardous materials, management science, responder health and safety and emergency medical services are some of the classes you might take as an aspiring arson investigator.

The teaching portion of your training can take a few months to complete. You'll learn how to properly follow investigative procedures while also discovering proper equipment use. To qualify to work, you might have to complete an examination with the National Fire Protection Association after your training.

Useful Skills

Arson investigators need knowledge of legal codes and basic court procedures. To work in this field, you'll also need strong customer service skills, leadership ability and critical thinking skills.

What Do Employers Want?

Employers want honest and efficient arson investigators. Integrity is an important trait you'll want to have since employers need unbiased arson investigators to testify as expert witnesses. Communication skills are also very beneficial in this line of work since employers want arson investigators who are comfortable interviewing people. Information from job postings by real employers in April 2012 has been collected and presented below for you.

  • In West Virginia, an opening for a fire investigator called for someone with at least two years of field experience. Applicants needed to be able to work with little supervision and be willing to travel to different sites.
  • An arson investigator job in Wisconsin required applicants with video and still photography experience. Candidates needed knowledge of fuel types and building features. The company asked for applicants with at least five years of experience and a private investigator's license.
  • A Texas engineering company was looking for arson investigators that could lift upwards of 70 lbs and climb ladders. A bachelor's degree was preferred.

How to Stand Out as an Arson Investigator

Certification is one way to stand out amongst your peers in states that don't require certification for employment. Multiple organizations offer different kinds of certifications for arson investigators. For instance, you can acquire the Certified Fire Investigator certification from the International Association of Arson Investigators. You need to have a combination of work experience, education and training to qualify to take the examination. Once you meet these requirements and your application receives approval, you can take and pass the examination to receive your designation. The National Association of Fire Investigators also offers certifications, such as the Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator credential. If you work for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, you can also find employer-specific certification options.

Other Career Paths

Firefighter

Not sure if this career is for you? You might be interested in some related options. If you'd rather fight fires than investigate them; consider becoming a firefighter. After completing your training at a fire academy, you'll join a fire station and begin work. Firefighters drive emergency vehicles and trucks to locations that are experiencing a fire. You'll use fire hydrants and hoses to spray water on the fire to help put it out. If anyone is located in a burning building, you must rescue them. The BLS in May 2011 found that firefighters earned $48,000 or so on average annually.

Private Detective

If you like the investigative aspects of being an arson investigator; you may want to look into being a private detective. You might work for a specific business or take contract work from individual clients. After receiving an assignment, you'll interview witnesses and travel to locations tied to your assignment for investigative work. A private investigator had average earnings of about $49,000, according to the BLS in May 2011.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
      • MS in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Fire and Emergency Management
      • Bachelor: Fire Science
      • BSCJ: Homeland Security
      • BSCJ: Law Enforcement
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science in Fire Science
      • Associate: Fire Science
      • AAS in Public Safety and Security
      • Associate: Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Saint Leo University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BA: Criminal Justice
      • BA: Criminal Justice - Criminalistics
    Associate's
      • AA: Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Colorado Christian University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Criminal Justice, M.S.
    Bachelor's
      • Criminal Justice, B.S.
    Associate's
      • Criminal Justice, A.S.
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Law - Criminal Justice
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Arts in Leadership Studies - Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Leadership Studies
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctorate: Management - Homeland Security
      • Doctor - Management - Criminal Justice
    Master's
      • Master of Science in Homeland Security - Emergency Management and Public Health
      • Master: Management - Homeland Security
      • M.S. - Criminal Justice
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    9. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Forensic Science
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Homeland Security and Crisis Management
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
  • Campus and Online Programs
    10. South College

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

Featured Schools

Purdue University Global

  • MS in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
  • Bachelor: Fire and Emergency Management
  • Associate of Science in Fire Science

Which subject are you interested in?

Saint Leo University

  • BA: Criminal Justice
  • BA: Criminal Justice - Criminalistics
  • AA: Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Christian University

  • Criminal Justice, M.S.
  • Criminal Justice, B.S.
  • Criminal Justice, A.S.

What is your highest level of education completed?

Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Law - Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Arts in Leadership Studies - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctorate: Management - Homeland Security
  • Master of Science in Homeland Security - Emergency Management and Public Health
  • BS - Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

Northcentral University

  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?