Fire Investigator  What They Do

Just the Facts

Fire Investigators Career Video

Insider Info

dotArson investigators work for a fire or police department. They also work for private investigators and insurance companies.

If the cause of a fire can't be determined, an officer calls an arson investigator. These are highly trained people who comb over the fire scene. They search for clues as to how and where a fire started.

dotUpon arriving at the scene, investigators interview the fire crew that arrived at the fire first to find out where the fire was when they got there. Investigators then trace the progression of fire through the structure.

"It's a process of elimination where you determine where the fire did not start," Don Braziel says. He is an arson investigator. "[It's] working back to the seat of the fire."

dotOnce they find the seat, they examine the area for clues as to what might have caused the fire. They look for faulty wiring, burned lamp cords, melted oven fuses, traces of accelerant (a substance used to accelerate the spreading of a fire) and other clues that might tell them how the fire started.

Amy Krise is from an arson unit. She says she must photograph, document, diagram, collect evidence and write a detailed report of a fire scene.

Investigators take statements from victims, witnesses and even suspects. Krise says the suspects she interviews are often dangerous and suspected of other crimes.

dotArson investigators have to be familiar with the process of gathering evidence to be presented in court. Some are involved in various fire prevention and arson awareness programs.

"If arrests are necessary, they make sure all the paperwork is in order," Braziel says. "They take care of the arrest if it goes to court. They follow the case through the court system until the individual is convicted or released."

dotThey spend most of their time in the field investigating different types of fires to structures, homes or commercial buildings.

dotArson investigators must be in fair physical shape. This job involves digging through damaged buildings.

dotInspecting the scene may be impossible for someone in a wheelchair. However, that doesn't mean they can't do other parts of the job.

"A person in a wheelchair can help in the investigation in any number of ways. For example, they can work in a lab testing materials. Or they can interview witnesses," explains John Putinsky. He works with an association of fire investigators.

dotTypically, arson investigators work 40 hours a week. Often, they work 10-hour days and are occasionally on call.

Just the Facts

Want a quick overview of what this career is about?Check out Just the Facts for simple lists of characteristics.

At a Glance

Figure out what caused the fire

  • Investigators work for fire and police departments as well as insurance companies
  • You must be fairly fit to go combing through damaged buildings
  • A degree in fire science or criminal justice is good