Exploring this Job
Although you can’t begin investigating fires on your own, you can still become familiar with the fire safety and science field through a number of activities. First, visit the Fire Prevention and Public Outreach section of the U.S. Fire Administration’s Web site, https://www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach. This source has fire-safety tips, publications, facts about fires, and more. You can also visit the U.S. Fire Administration’s main Web page (http://www.usfa.fema.gov) to find information on topics such as the National Fire Academy, data and statistics, and research. Once you have done some reading on the field, you may want to contact a professional for more information. Your school’s career counselor or a teacher can help arrange for a visit to a local fire department for a tour of the facilities, where you may also have the opportunity to talk with firefighters about their work. An information interview with a fire investigator can also provide you with insights.
Those who are in sixth grade through age 20 can participate in the Learning for Life program (https://www.exploring.org/fire-ems), which is affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America. Participants in its Fire & EMS Exploring program learn about fire service careers through classroom training and hands-on activities. Both young men and women may participate.
Fire investigators look for evidence pointing to the causes of fires. Once fires are extinguished, especially if they are of suspicious origin or cause death or injury, investigators look for evidence of arson. Investigators determine whether the fire was incendiary (arson) or accidental, and then try to figure out what caused it and how to prevent it. This information is very important to the fire-protection community. In cases of arson it is the investigator’s responsibility to collect information or evidence that can be used to prosecute the fire starter. For example, the investigator must determine what fuel was used to start the fire and in the process may discover devices that were also used. Investigators may submit reports to a district attorney, testify in court, or arrest suspected arsonists (if investigators have police authority). Investigators also gather information from accidental fires to determine where and how the fire started and how it spread. This is important information because it can be used to prevent similar fires in the future.
Fire investigators also interrogate witnesses, obtain statements and other necessary documentation, and preserve and examine physical and circumstantial evidence. They tour fire scenes and examine debris to collect evidence. They also send evidence to laboratories to be tested for fingerprints or the presence of an accelerant. Investigators prepare comprehensive reports, provide detailed accounts of investigative procedures, and present findings. They apprehend and arrest arson suspects, as well as seek confinement and control of fire setters and juveniles who set fires. Investigators also prepare damage estimates for reporting and insurance purposes and compile statistics related to fires and investigations. They sometimes testify about their findings in court.