Becoming an Arson Investigator

By Roger Krupp, past president, International Association of Arson Investigators

We often think of fire investigators as those who just determine the origin and cause of fires. The work of a public or private fire investigator provides an important part of community fire prevention efforts. These professionals do a variety of work including:

  • Identifying acts of arson in an effort to find the person responsible
  • Uncovering juvenile fire setters to find proper therapy and care
  • Identifying faulty products which need to be removed from the market
  • Report trends such as improper candle use and common fire hazards to the public

Learn More About Fire Science Degrees We often hear the term arson investigator to describe these professionals. In reality this is a fire investigator with police powers based on the statute of the state they work in. The state’s statute will list the qualifications of an arson investigator. An arson investigator could a police officer who completes fire investigation training or a fire department investigator who completes police training.

With the proper education, training and experience any fire investigator, public or private, will be a qualified fire/arson investigator. A public fire investigator is a member of a local, state or federal agency. A private fire investigator can be someone on staff with an insurance company or an individual who works for a private investigation company. Some private investigation companies hire public fire investigators part-time to work while not on shift.

A bachelor’s degree in the field of fire investigation, whether through an on-campus or online program, will provide an advantage

If you are interested in a fire investigation career obtain a copy of the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) 921 Guide to Fire Investigation and NFPA 1033 Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator.  NFPA 921 is the industry recognized guide on how to complete fire investigations and NFPA 1033 lists the qualifications of a fire investigator. These documents are highly-recognized by all professional fire investigators and if called to testify in a deposition or trial, you will be tested on your knowledge of these documents.

Also consider joining the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI), a professional trade association of fire investigators from around the world. The association provides networking opportunities with those who hire fire investigators, orchestratesinvestigator training programs, and produces a quarterly journal of fire investigation related articles and fire investigation certifications.  Utilize your membership to further the development of your curriculum vitae/resume. The IAAI offers a student membership, as well.

A bachelor’s degree in the field of fire investigation, whether through an on-campus or online program, will provide an advantage when seeking career opportunities in fire investigation, as well as enhance your curriculum vitae/resume.

Obtaining a fire investigation degree and completing training will make you a competitive candidate for a career in the public sector. As a public sector investigator you will build your experience by completing fire investigations. With a degree and training some private investigation firms will consider hiring you as a laborer to work with their fire investigators, allowing you to gather more experience. As you build experience you become competitive for a career with an insurance company or private investigation firm. 
Becoming a fire investigator involves training, education and experience. Fire investigation is a rewarding career and is an important job in keeping those in our communities safe.

Roger has more than 32 years of experience in the fire service. As a Past-President of the IAAI, He serves as Deputy Chief on a part-time, paid-on-call department. He has over 29 years of experience in the field of fire investigation, has been a member of the MABAS 10 Origin and Cause Team and has been supervising a Special Investigation Unit for a major US Insurance company for the past 16 years.  He has a bachelor of science in fire investigation from Eastern Kentucky University and a master’s of science in management and organizational behavior.