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What Fire Inspectors Do About this section

Fire inspectors and investigators
Fire inspectors inspect building plans to ensure that they meet fire codes.

Fire inspectors examine buildings in order to detect fire hazards and ensure that federal, state, and local fire codes are met. Fire investigators, another type of worker in this field, determine the origin and cause of fires and explosions. Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists assess outdoor fire hazards in public and residential areas.

Duties

Fire inspectors typically do the following:

  • Search for fire hazards
  • Ensure that buildings comply with fire codes
  • Test fire alarms, sprinklers, and other fire protection equipment
  • Inspect fuel storage tanks and air compressors
  • Review emergency evacuation plans
  • Conduct followup visits to make sure that infractions do not recur
  • Review building plans with developers
  • Conduct fire and safety education programs
  • Maintain fire inspection files
  • Administer burn permits and monitor controlled burns

Fire investigators typically do the following:

  • Collect and analyze evidence from scenes of fires and explosions
  • Interview witnesses
  • Reconstruct the scene of a fire or arson
  • Send evidence to laboratories to be tested for fingerprints or accelerants
  • Analyze information with chemists, engineers, and attorneys
  • Document evidence by taking photographs and creating diagrams
  • Determine the origin and cause of a fire
  • Keep detailed records and protect evidence for use in a court of law
  • Testify in civil and criminal legal proceedings
  • Exercise police powers, such as the power of arrest, and carry a weapon

Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists assess outdoor fire hazards in public and residential areas. They look for fire code infractions and for conditions that pose a wildfire risk. They also recommend ways to reduce fire hazards. During patrols, they enforce fire regulations and report fire conditions to their central command center.

Work Environment About this section

Fire inspectors and investigators
Fire investigators often work in the field when determining the origin and cause of a fire.

Fire inspectors and investigators held about 14,200 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of fire inspectors and investigators were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals 77%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 8
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 1
Manufacturing 0

Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists held about 2,300 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals 53%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 40

Fire inspectors work both in offices and in the field. In the field, inspectors examine buildings such as apartment complexes and offices. They also may visit and inspect other structures, such as arenas and industrial plants. Fire investigators visit the scene of a fire. They may be exposed to poor ventilation, smoke, fumes, and other hazardous agents.

Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists spend much of their time outdoors, assessing the risks of fires in places such as forests, fields, and other natural or outdoor environments.

Injuries and Illnesses

Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Working at the scene of a fire can be dangerous. And injuries can occur when workers are patrolling in remote areas with rugged terrain. 

Work Schedules

Fire inspectors and investigators typically work during regular business hours, but investigators may also work evenings, weekends, and holidays because they must be ready to respond when fires occur.

How to Become a Fire Inspector About this section

Fire inspectors and investigators
Many fire inspectors and investigators have a firefighter background.

Fire inspectors and investigators, as well as forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists, typically have previous work experience as a firefighter. These workers need at least a high school diploma or equivalent, and receive on-the-job-training in inspection and investigation.

Fire inspectors and investigators usually must pass a background check, which may include a drug test. Most employers also require inspectors and investigators to have a valid driver’s license, and investigators usually need to be U.S. citizens because of their police powers.

Education

Because fire inspectors and investigators typically have previous work experience as a firefighter, many have completed a postsecondary educational program for emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Some employers prefer candidates with a 2- or 4-year degree in fire science, engineering, or chemistry. For those candidates interested in becoming forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists, a high school diploma or equivalent typically is required.

Training

Training requirements vary by state, but programs usually include instruction in a classroom setting in addition to on-the-job training.

Classroom training often takes place at a fire or police academy over the course of several months. A variety of topics are covered, including guidelines for conducting an inspection or investigation, legal codes, courtroom procedures, protocols for handling hazardous and explosive materials, and the proper use of equipment.

In most agencies, after inspectors and investigators have finished their classroom training, they also receive on-the-job training, during which they work with a more experienced officer.

Employers, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and organizations, such as the National Fire Academy and the International Association of Arson Investigators, offer training programs in fire investigation.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Most fire inspectors and investigators are required to have work experience as a firefighter. Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists typically need firefighting experience before being hired.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Many states have certification exams that cover standards established by the National Fire Protection Association. Many states require additional training for inspectors and investigators each year in order for them to maintain their certification.

The National Fire Protection Association also offers several certifications, such as Certified Fire Inspector and Certified Fire Protection Specialist, for fire inspectors. Some jobs in the private sector require that job candidates already have these certifications.

In addition, fire investigators may choose to pursue certification from a nationally recognized professional association. Among such certifications and associations are the Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) certification from the International Association of Arson Investigators or the Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI) certification from the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI). The process of obtaining certification can teach new skills and demonstrate competency.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Fire inspectors must clearly explain fire code violations to building and property managers. They must carefully interview witnesses as part of their factfinding mission.

Critical-thinking skills. Fire inspectors must be able to recognize code violations and recommend a way to fix the problem. They must be able to analyze evidence from a fire and come to a reasonable conclusion.

Detail oriented. Fire inspectors must notice details when inspecting a site for code violations or investigating the cause of a fire.

Physical strength. Fire investigators may have to move debris at the site of a fire in order to get a more accurate understanding of the scene.

Pay About this section

Fire Inspectors

Median annual wages, May 2019

Fire inspectors and investigators

$61,660

Fire inspectors

$60,230

Firefighting and prevention workers

$51,330

Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists

$45,270

Total, all occupations

$39,810

 

The median annual wage for fire inspectors and investigators was $61,660 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $38,090, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $96,400.

The median annual wage for forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists was $45,270 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,090, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $89,710.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for fire inspectors and investigators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Manufacturing $80,220
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 63,130
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 60,890
State government, excluding education and hospitals 60,230

In May 2019, the median annual wages for forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals $70,920
State government, excluding education and hospitals 35,390

Fire inspectors and investigators typically work during regular business hours, but investigators may also work evenings, weekends, and holidays because they must be ready to respond when fires occur.

Job Outlook About this section

Fire Inspectors

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists

24%

Fire inspectors

8%

Firefighting and prevention workers

6%

Fire inspectors and investigators

6%

Total, all occupations

4%

 

Overall employment of fire inspectors is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will vary by specialization.

Employment of fire inspectors and investigators is projected to grow 6 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. Fire inspectors will be needed to assess potential fire hazards in newly constructed residential, commercial, public, and other buildings in the coming decade. Fire inspectors will also be needed to ensure that existing buildings meet updated and revised federal, state, and local fire codes each year. Although the number of structural fires occurring across the country has been falling for some time, fire investigators will still be needed to determine the cause of fires and explosions.

Employment of forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists is projected to grow 24 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 500 new jobs over the 10-year period. Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists are expected to be needed to help prevent and control the increasingly destructive wildfires that the United States has been experiencing.

Job Prospects

Jobseekers should expect strong competition for the number of available positions.

Those who have completed some fire science education or who have training related to criminal investigation should have the best job prospects.

Employment projections data for fire inspectors, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Fire inspectors

33-2020 16,400 17,800 8 1,400 Get data

Fire inspectors and investigators

33-2021 14,200 15,000 6 800 Get data

Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists

33-2022 2,300 2,800 24 500 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about federal fire investigator jobs, visit

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Federal Bureau of Investigation

For more information about fire inspectors’ and investigators’ training, visit

National Fire Academy

For information about standards for fire inspectors and investigators, visit

National Fire Protection Association

For information about certifications, visit

International Association of Arson Investigators

National Association of Fire Investigators

O*NET

Fire Inspectors

Fire Inspectors and Investigators

Fire Investigators

Forest Fire Inspectors and Prevention Specialists

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