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How To Become An Arson Investigator: Career & Salary Information

Have you ever wondered how a fire spreads, or how officials are able to pinpoint the source of a fire, or how they are able to determine if a fire was caused by accident or through malicious intent? Arson investigators, or fire investigators, are the professionals behind these impressive skills.

You may wonder how to become an arson investigator and there are steps you can follow to achieve this career path/goal.

Aside from first obtaining basic requirements such as completing your high school diploma, you would need to obtain experience in a related field, usually in firefighting, and you would need to obtain a Certified Fire Investigator certificate from Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

Additionally, earning a criminal justice degree is a guaranteed way to benefit your growing career. It will not only equip you with the skills and knowledge that you need to pursue investigations, but it will also provide you with the legal knowledge you will need to thrive in this field, since arson investigators are law enforcement agents after all.

Let us take a closer look at an arson investigator as a career path, what you would need to pursue this career, and what the salary may be.

What Is An Arson Investigator?

Knowing what an arson investigator is begins with knowing what the act of arson is. Arson is the act of setting items ablaze deliberately and it is a crime. Whatever the motivation behind it, the act of committing arson is illegal and dangerous.

To oppose this illegal factor, it must be met with the law. Here is where the role of an arson investigator comes in. Fire investigators are a part of law enforcement teams, and they are recruited to identify the root cause of a fire, which allows them to deliberate intent.

By investigating the scene of a fire once the flames have died down, an arson investigator is called in to pursue a criminal investigation if there was malicious and criminal intent behind the cause of a fire.

What Does An Arson Investigator Do?

Once the danger has passed, the fire has been extinguished, and the first responders have secured the scene, arson investigators will move in and start executing their duties.

It is the job and the responsibility of the arson investigator to thoroughly inspect the scene where the fire took place, for them to collect evidence, and through their expert training and experience, they are able to determine the origin of the fire.

With on-the-job experience, arson investigators develop a keen and acute investigative ability. They are not only able to channel their inner Sherlock Holmes, but they are able to provide valuable insight that seep beyond law enforcement.

Based on the outcomes of the investigations conducted, criminal charges can be filed, victims can be compensated, insurance claims can be made, attempts to rebuild or fix can be planned and set in motion, and justice can be served.

Steps To Become An Arson Investigator

Whether it has always been your passion to embody the idealized Crime Scene Investigator, whether you're seeking a viable career path that will sustain you well into your future, or whether you are looking for career ideas because you don't know where to begin, considering arson investigation may be a prospect for you.

If this is the route you are hoping to follow, here are the steps you would need to take:

Step One: Complete High School

As with most career endeavors, the first step would be to obtain your high school diploma. Whether you do this by attending mainstream public or private schooling, whether you attend night classes, or whether you complete your diploma at a later stage at a community college, having your diploma in your hand is the key to unlocking the next steps.

Step Two: Pursue A Degree

You may be wondering, with all the extensive investigation skills that an arson investigator needs, what degree do you need to have to be an arson investigator? The straightforward answer is that there are no particular associates or bachelor's degree that is needed for a career as an arson investigator.

However, having a degree in a related field will allow you to grow within your career and it will unlock new and greater opportunities. You can therefore pursue a degree in a related field, such as criminal justice, forensic studies, or chemistry, which will contribute to your career growth.

Step Three: Gain Experience In The Field

As great as it would be to walk into your desired role, you will need to gain some industry related experience first. With an arson investigator holding a role as a law enforcement official, starting in that field, as a police officer, would be ideal.

Additionally, gaining experience as a first responder will be a valuable contribution to your career. As a paramedic, for example, you will learn how to treat burn victims and possibly learn how to assist in an evacuation if a fire breaks out.

As a fire fighter, you will gain direct experience and skills that will contribute to your desired role as an arson investigator. You will learn fire prevention skills, evacuation tactics, and you will learn how fires start, spread, and are contained.

Step Four: Get Certified

There are many industries that require practicing professionals to receive certification validating their ability to execute their duties. The same is true for an arson investigator.

Certification can be obtained from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), and by the end, you would have successfully obtained a Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) certificate.

During this two-year course, you will experience a combination of classroom training, as well as be immersed into onsite training where you will be face with a plethora of scenarios that you may possibly face in real life. You will be guided and trained by an experienced CFI.

Step Five: Venture Into The World

Once you have achieved your certification, you can begin seeking employment opportunities. You may find many prospects both in the public sector and the private sector where you can consult privately or be a part of a law enforcement team.

What Is The Average Salary For An Arson Investigator?

Whether you are motivated to pursue this career for passion or for finances, the salary will play a significant role. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), arson investigators may expect an average yearly salary of $63,080 per year, or they can set an average private rate of $30.33 per hour.

But arson investigators and fire investigators don't just tend to fires within homes. They are called on the scene of forest fires, house fires, and everything in between.

Each individual role has a slightly varying compensation which was found to be an average annual salary of $64,600 for fire inspectors and investigators, and $42,600 for forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists.

These amounts were compiled in May 2021 by the BLS.

What Makes A Good Arson Investigator?

There are certain characteristics that will incline someone to following a specific career path as opposed to others. If you find that you have great problem-solving skills, an inclination towards intense curiosity, you have an aptitude for math and science, and you have a passion for investigative work, then this may be a suitable role for you.

Being a good arson investigator will mean having the ability to infer based on visualizations and evidence. You will be on the site of fires and explosions, you will recreate scenes and assess evidence, and communicate findings with the relevant stakeholders.

As with all jobs, there is also paperwork. As an arson investigator, you will be responsible for drafting incident reports and keeping records of all previous offences.


Are Arson Investigators The Same As Fire Investigators?

No. A fire investigator is brought onto the scene to determine what was the origin and the source of the fire, whether it was caused by faulty electrical equipment, or by someone accidentally leaving the stove on.

Arson investigators, on the other hand, are called in when the source of the fire has been found to be as a result of a criminal act. This is when a criminal investigation will begin, and it will be set in motion by the arson investigator.

One person can perform the duties of a fire investigator and an arson investigator, but how the case develops will be determined by whether or not there is a criminal element.

What Tools Do Arson Investigators Use?

Arson investigators and fire investigators use a combination of extremely specialized equipment from gas chromatograph-mass spectrometers to a general investigative tool kit which contains tweezers and Ziplock evidence bags.

Also, don't forget a handy piece of paper and pen that are used to take copious notes ensuring nothing is missed or forgotten, and that everything goes on file.

What Do Arson Investigators Wear?

Although fire investigators and arson investigators are brought onto the scene after the fire has been put out, they do need to wear safety equipment, such as hard hats to keep themselves safe from falling debris, and fire-resistant overalls, safety boots, and face masks to keep them safe and to prevent the inhalation of any fumes.

What Potential Problems Do Arson Investigators Face At A Fire Scene?

In a lot of investigative work, the greatest source of information comes from the crime scene and the evidence it holds. However, for fire investigators and arson investigators, both the fire, and the foam or water that has been used to put out the fire, destroys almost all the evidence.

Their main source of information generally comes from eyewitnesses who may be unreliable, or far and few between; or the first responders who often only witness the aftereffects of the fire rather than the cause.

Additionally, the environment in which they operate is extremely hostile with poor visibility, poor air quality, and no air conditioning.

Why Is Arson Investigation Difficult?

Arsonists do not need to be at the crime scene when they commit the crime, and the fire does an excellent job in assisting them in destroying all evidence that may have been left behind. This makes finding a culprit extremely difficult.


Whether you are following your heart or your mind on a career path, whether you are drawn to the thrill of investigation, or whether it is just your curiosity on how the cause of fires are pinpointed, then arson investigation is for you.

With a thrilling job that is outside of what is expected from law enforcement, a well-paved career path, and a salary to sustain you, it is a great option when looking for a long-term career.

find criminal justice degrees near you

find criminal justice degrees near you