Spotlights

Job Description

Fire is one of nature’s most powerful forces. When it’s properly harnessed, fire is incredibly useful for things like cooking and heating. But when it’s out of control, few things are as destructive. Unfortunately, it is all too easy for harmful fires to get started due to human negligence or malicious intent. Fires can also be caused by accidental incidents such as overheated machinery or faulty electrical wiring. 

Because there are so many possible ways for fires to break out, many organizations utilize Fire Inspectors to screen buildings for potential hazards. Their role is to help prevent situations where fires could occur. Fire Inspectors do physical walkarounds to visually inspect residential and commercial properties, checking to ensure all applicable fire-related codes are being complied with (and to enforce codes when they aren’t being followed). Forest Fire Inspectors perform similar duties but related to outdoor environments and preventing wildfires. 

When unwanted fires do happen, Fire Investigators are brought in to assess the impacted area and determine how the fire — and any related explosions — got started. Like Inspectors, many Fire Investigators begin their careers as firefighters, then apply their accrued knowledge and skills to figure out the causes of fires and, when needed, help hold responsible parties accountable. 

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Keeping people, property, wildlife, and the environment safe from fire hazards
  • Investigating fire scenes to determine causes and prevent future events
  • Helping to keep down financial costs associated with destructive fires
2021 Employment
18,300
2031 Projected Employment
19,400
The Inside Scoop
Job Responsibilities

Working Schedule

Fire Inspectors and Investigators work full-time, with Investigators often called in at night or on weekends to respond to incidents. 

Typical Duties

  • Be familiar with common indoor or outdoor fire hazards
  • Understand all applicable local and state fire codes, as well as any area-specific policies
  • Review blueprints and consult building developers about fire safety planning for new and remodel projects
  • Conduct visual inspections to look for fire code violations and to point out hazards such as exposed electrical wiring
  • Perform routine fire alarms and sprinkler testings. Check fire extinguisher status tags 
  • Conduct fire drills. Assess the effectiveness of evacuation plans, maps, and training 
  • Inspect flammable/combustible equipment and containment areas
  • Engage with workers to ask questions and check their understanding of fire safety and policies 
  • Discuss findings with applicable personnel (managers, building custodians, etc.)
  • Prepare written reports, offer suggestions for improvement. Issue warnings or notices of violations, as needed
  • Schedule follow-up visits to check that corrective actions have been completed
  • Investigate fires, take photos, and interview witnesses or affected persons
  • Gather and safeguard evidence, such as fingerprints on objects. Use evidence to help determine potential causes, such as negligence or arson
  • Use testing equipment and software to analyze and model burn patterns
  • Use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to get a bird’s-eye view of fire-damaged areas
  • Document findings and collaborate with applicable agencies, such as law enforcement (if it is suspected that laws may have been broken)
  • Discuss findings with insurance company representatives or attorneys, as needed
  • Keep track of fire-related criminal activities, suspects, and convicted offenders
  • Check facility permits. Monitor controlled burns
  • Advise upgrades or replacements for fire safety-related gear and systems

Additional Responsibilities

  • Offer testimony in court cases
  • Conduct public fire and safety education programs
  • Create or review fire training materials for local usage
  • Maintain fire inspection files
  • Stay up-to-date on changes in fire prevention and safety, plus relevant laws, standards, policies, etc. 
  • Train, mentor, supervise, and evaluate new inspectors/investigators and other staff
Skills Needed on the Job

Soft Skills

  • Analytical
  • Compliance-oriented
  • Critical thinking
  • Curiosity
  • Deductive and inductive reasoning
  • Detail-oriented
  • Independent
  • Initiative 
  • Integrity
  • Normal color vision 
  • Objectivity
  • Observant
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Realistic 
  • Safety conscious 
  • Sound judgment 
  • Stamina
  • Time management 

Technical Skills

Different Types of Organizations
  • Higher education institutions
  • Local and state government agencies
  • Manufacturing companies
Expectations and Sacrifices

Fire Inspectors and Investigators must travel frequently to conduct site visits. Both roles have enormous responsibilities, with one helping to prevent fires and the other tasked to figure out how fires happened. An overlooked fire hazard could eventually lead to a devastating structure or forest fire, while a missed piece of evidence could prevent investigators from catching a serial arsonist. That’s why organizations and communities rely on the skills and diligence of these critical workers to keep people and property safe and to prevent future incidents. 

Current Trends

Two contrasting trends have been noticed in recent years — a decrease in fire frequency and an increase in fire temperatures and burn rates. Increased vigilance, aided by the work of Fire Inspectors, may be contributing to fewer fires, but the fires that do occur are burning hotter and faster because of changes in materials used for building construction and internal contents (such as furniture). 

There’s also a higher risk of building collapse, again due to materials used during construction. However, to help combat the risk, building owners have increased their usage of smoke alarms, sprinklers, and automatic system shutoff devices. 

Wildfires have been on the rise for some time, due to droughts and generally warmer climate conditions. These ravaging blazes can be extremely hard to contain, making prevention (through increased education and training) more important than ever. 

In terms of fire investigation, UAVs and technological advances such as computer fire modeling have helped improve results.

What kinds of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were younger…

Fire Inspectors and Investigators may have enjoyed learning and following rules or helping to teach others about safety-related issues. Their concerns for safety could have stemmed from some event in their past, or simply out of their acute awareness of hazards and risks. They may have always exhibited a general sense of curiosity, wanting to find and solve problems or puzzles, too! 

Education and Training Needed

Education Needed

  • Per the American Library Association, ~20.7% of Fire Inspectors and Investigators hold only a HS diploma, 30.1% have some college (but no degree), 16.7% have an associate’s, 22.2% a bachelor’s, and 5% a master’s. 1.3% have a PhD
  • Fire Inspectors and Investigators frequently start out as firefighters. If starting as a firefighter: 
    • Firefighters don’t need a college degree but must be 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED, plus some training in emergency medical services
    • Per the U.S. Fire Administration’s Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education Project, students may get a head start by taking relevant community college or vocational training courses in “building construction for fire protection, fire behavior and combustion, fire prevention, fire protection systems, principles of emergency services, principles of fire and emergency services safety and survival”
    • Many students earn a 60-credit associate’s in fire science to boost their credentials
    • Candidates must pass tests prior to acceptance into a fire academy program. Training takes 12-14 weeks and covers topics such as “firefighting, fire-prevention techniques, local building codes, emergency medical procedures”
    • Pre-acceptance testing includes a background check and interview plus:
    • Some departments require candidates to have EMT or paramedic certification
    • Applicants must usually hold a valid driver’s license. Fire truck drivers need a commercial driver’s license or endorsement on their license
    • Once hired, firefighters may attend ongoing training at state and local agencies plus federal training sessions at the National Fire Academy
    • Wildland firefighters complete the Forest Service’s apprenticeship 
  • Relevant work experience plus a background in inspections or investigations is also necessary
  • Employers may require applicants to hold U.S. citizenship
  • On-the-Job training may include in-class courses at a fire academy, covering topics related to inspection and investigations
  • Other agency-sponsored training is offered by:
    • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
    • Federal Bureau of Investigation
    • International Association of Arson Investigators
    • National Fire Academy
  • Certain states require National Fire Protection Association certification. Additional certification options include:

               ○ National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies - Inspection and Testing of Fire Alarm Systems

Things to look for in an University
  • Fire Inspectors and Investigators don’t necessarily need a full degree from a university to get started. Many begin as firefighters and take courses at a local community college or vocational training program
  • If you decide to pursue a fire protection degree at a university, general considerations include tuition costs (in-state/out-of-state rates), discounts, scholarships, and delivery options (on-campus, online, or hybrid program)
Things to do in High School and College
  • Try to decide what type of agency you want to work for (local fire department, federal agencies, insurance companies, law offices, etc.)
  • High school students can prepare by taking classes in health and medicine, first aid, safety, physical education, driver’s education, math, chemistry, building construction, architecture, and communications. Future inspectors/investigators may also want to study English composition, computer science, and public speaking
  • If possible, sign up to take community college courses like “building construction for fire protection, and fire behavior and combustion” 
  • Consider doing an associate’s degree in fire science, with courses in hazardous materials handling, fire alarms installation and maintenance, and other relevant classes, Decide if in-person, online, or hybrid learning is best for your learning needs
  • Knock out your emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic certification
  • Volunteer as a junior firefighter to “learn about local fire, rescue, and emergency medical services response organizations” 
  • Ask a school counselor about opportunities where you can pick up real-world skills. Community involvement looks great on an application
  • Commit to an exercise schedule to prep for the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) or BIDDLE physical ability test
  • Stay out of trouble, maintain a good credit score, and keep your social media accounts professional 
  • Study for your state’s firefighter exam. Check with local firefighter departments to know which test they use
  • Do an informational interview with a working Fire Inspector or Investigator to ask about their career path
  • Keep track of contacts who might serve as future job references 
  • Study books, articles, and video tutorials related to Fire Inspections and Investigations
  • Participate in online forums to ask questions and learn from seasoned pros 
  • Engage with professional organizations to learn, share, make friends, and grow your network (see our list of Resources > Websites)
  • Start crafting a resume early. Keep adding to it as you go, so you don’t lose track of anything
How to Land your 1st job
  • Most Fire Inspectors and Investigators start as Firefighters and work their way up by gaining pertinent experience, taking classes, and asking for career planning guidance
  • Get your EMT or paramedic certification, if needed
  • Study hard for the firefighter exam, be physically fit, and have your affairs in order for the background check
  • If you take college classes, work with your school’s career center to find jobs, polish your resume, and practice interviewing
  • Talk to local departments about openings and sign up for job alerts on Indeed, Glassdoor, and other job portals 
  • Review job ads carefully and ensure you meet all listed requirements. If needed, go back and beef up your credentials before applying
  • Move to where the jobs are! The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the states with the highest employment levels of Fire Inspectors/Investigators are Florida, New York, California, Texas, and New Jersey. For Forest Fire Inspectors, the states are Florida, California, Georgia, Mississippi, and Arkansas
  • Review Fire Inspector or Fire Investigator resume templates
  • Ask potential references in advance before giving out their contact info
  • Keep in mind, interviews are critical and you may face an interview panel 
  • Review Fire Inspector interview questions and think about how you’d answer them!
  • Practice mock interviews and read How to Dress for a Job Interview
How to Climb the Ladder
  • Talk with your supervisor about promotion opportunities 
  • Obtain any needed certifications or take classes that help qualify you for advancement
  • Master your duties, set high standards, and be a consummate professional 
  • Stay up-to-date on relevant changes in codes, laws, standards, or other guidelines 
  • For Fire Inspectors, focus on being positive and helping organizations understand the importance of compliance
  • For Fire Investigators, stay motivated to determine fire causes, collaborate effectively with applicable agencies, and offer help to affected individuals 
  • Learn to maximize useful technologies to the fullest extent. Research what’s out there and request funding for new software, equipment, or training
  • Study manufacturer and software guides for related equipment, systems, or software
  • Keep learning from seasoned pros with more experience than you, and pass on knowledge to new staff
  • Stay engaged with professional organizations related to your field. Build your reputation as the go-to expert who gets things done! 
Plan B

It can take several years to work one’s way up to becoming a Fire Inspector and Investigator. For those who are interested in related career fields, consider some of the popular options below: 

  • Construction and Building Inspector
  • Fire Prevention and Protection Engineer
  • Forensic Science Technician
  • Police or Detective
  • Private Detective

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