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How to Become a Fire Inspector or Investigator

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

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


Most fire inspectors and investigators jobs require a high school diploma. However, some employers prefer candidates with a 2- or 4-year degree in related disciplines, such as fire science, engineering, or chemistry.

Work Experience

Most fire inspectors and investigators are required to have work experience in a related occupation. 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.


Training requirements vary by state, but programs usually include instruction both in a classroom setting and on the job.

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

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

After completing training, applicants may need to pass an exam to become certified in their state. Tests often cover information on standards established by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Many agencies require some additional annual training for an inspector or investigator to remain certified.

Most states also require fire investigators who work for private companies to have a private investigation license.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Inspectors must explain codes clearly, and investigators must carefully interview witnesses. 

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 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.


For fire inspectors, the National Fire Protection Association offers several certifications. 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.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition