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What does a Fire Investigator do?

By J. Beam
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A fire investigator has several duties that fall under her job description. Obviously, investigating fires is a primary job function, but there are other roles someone in this position fills as well. A fire investigator is a public service employee working for a specific jurisdiction. He could work for a city, township, or county. When a fire is reported, he or she is called to the fire, but she does not actually participate in fire fighting or rescue. Instead, her job begins once the fire is put out.

After a fire is out, the fire investigator’s job is to determine the cause of the fire. Much like a coroner determines the cause of death for people, he or she determines what started a fire. He must locate the origin of a fire and determine whether the fire was accidental or intentional by examining the scene.

If after locating the origin of a fire, a fire investigator suspects arson, her job is to look for any evidence that can be used to determine suspects and build a solid case for law enforcement. In cases of arson, the site of the fire also becomes a crime scene, and an investigator may work with a team of people to complete the investigation. Intentionally set fires require a more detailed and lengthy investigation than accidental fires. When a fire is ruled accidental, no criminal charges are filed, and the investigator provides a written report to the property owner, which he or she in turn can provide to the insurance company.

In addition to determining the cause of fires, a fire investigator may be responsible for assisting with inspections of public facilities. There are specific fire codes that businesses must adhere to, and they undergo inspection each year. A fire investigator may perform double duty as the inspector, especially in small rural towns, and in larger urban cities, he or she may assist the inspectors with their job.

The educational requirements for becoming a fire investigator vary among municipalities, but some education and formal training are required. Someone in this position may be trained in and licensed to carry weapons. He may also employ the use of cameras and other tools during routine investigations.

Many fire investigators start out in other positions within the fire department. They are civil workers entitled to civil worker benefits. Some jurisdictions have residency requirements for their public service employees and may require that those who work on the police and fire departments live within the limits of the city that they serve.

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Discussion Comments

By chivebasil — On May 25, 2012

There are some private fire investigation companies that will investigate suspicious fires for insurance companies. As long as there has been insurance there has been people trying to cheat insurance companies. It is more common than you would guess for people to burn down their own house or business and try to collect insurance.

Luckily, it is also harder to get away with arson than you would expect. It's not easy to burn a building to the ground and today's fire investigators have powerful tools that can reveal clues hidden even deep in the fire.

By nextcorrea — On May 24, 2012

How would I get fire investigator training? Is it a prerequisite that you be a fire fighter? Do you need a specialized degree or are the courses offered through the fire department?

By jonrss — On May 23, 2012

When people think of a fire investigator they often think that they investigate arson. And while that it is part of their job, most of their day to day routine is dedicated to figuring out the cause of accidental fires.

These make up the vast majority of fires. Even when a building catches fire on accident it is important to discover the cause. First to rule out arson and then to make sure that there are not future fire risks

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