Career Profile: Fire Investigator
When there is a fire at a home or business, it is important to learn the cause. Fire investigators are professionals who are specially trained to examine the site of a fire and be able to determine what happened. If you like to do detective work, are scientifically minded, and enjoy solving puzzles, then a career as a fire investigator could be right for you.
Fire investigators are related to law enforcement, and are responsible for examining fire damage, determining the cause, and documenting information about the origin, behaviour, and whether a fire was accidental or deliberately set. They will make this information available to police and fire department officials, lawyers and judges, city or regional government, and will offer recommendations on safety or criminal responsibility.
This work requires a strong knowledge of building materials and structures, the effects of fire on these materials, the effects of fire suppression methods, and an understanding of burn patterns and fire behaviour. Many fire investigators are involved in preventative inspections, as well, to ensure buildings are up to code for fire safety. Fire investigators will also often participate in public outreach in their community, to advise on safety and fire prevention strategies for homes, schools, and businesses.
Fire investigators work closely with other members of fire departments and police departments and can come into a fire investigator role from either of these backgrounds. While they can start as police officers, firefighters, most fire investigators will need additional education specific to the job. You will need to complete a college degree in firefighting, fire science, fire protection technology, or a related field. A background in civil, mechanical or chemical engineering, chemistry or another scientific field can be beneficial, especially for future career advancement. It is also a good idea to become a member of industry associations, such as the Canadian Association of Fire Investigators, which will give you access to training, mentorship, and career networking opportunities.
Most fire investigators work for municipal entities, such as local police and fire departments, government offices. They can also work for the private sector, such as for insurance companies, engineering and construction firms, or forensics and accident investigation firms. Because fire investigation is part of law enforcement, investigators will be subject to detailed credit and criminal background checks, psychological evaluations, and other personality or behavioural assessments.
Salary ranges from around $35,000 per year for entry-level and early career positions, up to as much as $100,000 per year for experienced investigators who are highly specialized. However, the average salary for a fire investigator in Canada is around $78,000 per year.