Fire Inspectors

Summary

fire inspectors and investigators image
Fire investigators work at the scene of a fire to determine its cause.
Quick Facts: Fire Inspectors
2015 Median Pay $54,790 per year
$26.34 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education See How to Become One
Work Experience in a Related Occupation See How to Become One
On-the-job Training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2014 14,100
Job Outlook, 2014-24 6% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 900

What Fire Inspectors Do

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

Work Environment

Fire inspectors work both in offices and in the field. Inspectors typically work during regular business hours, but investigators often work evenings, weekends, and holidays because they must be ready to respond when fires happen. Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists check on outdoor installations and land to assess fire risk.

How to Become a Fire Inspector

Fire inspectors and investigators typically have previous work experience as a firefighter or police officer, where many have completed a postsecondary educational program for emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists typically enter the occupation with a high school diploma or equivalent.

Workers attend training academies and receive on-the-job training in inspection and investigation.

Pay

The median annual wage for fire inspectors was $54,790 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of fire inspectors is projected to grow 6 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Still, jobseekers should expect strong competition for the limited number of available positions.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for fire inspectors.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of fire inspectors with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about fire inspectors by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Fire Inspectors Do

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

Fire inspectors examine buildings to detect fire hazards and ensure that federal, state, and local fire codes are met. Fire investigators determine the origin and cause of fires and explosions.

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 gasoline 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 that may be used in a court of law
  • 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 fire hazards in both 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

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

Fire inspectors held about 14,100 jobs in 2014. Fire inspectors and investigators held about 12,400 of those jobs, while forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists held the remaining 1,700 jobs. About 88 percent of all fire inspectors worked for state and local governments in 2014. A few also worked for insurance companies or attorneys’ offices. 

Fire inspectors work both in offices and in the field. In the field, inspectors examine public buildings, such as museums, and multifamily residential buildings, such as high-rise condominiums. They may also visit and inspect other structures, such as arenas and industrial plants. Investigators must visit the scene where a fire has occurred. They may be exposed to poor ventilation, smoke, fumes, and other hazardous agents.

Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists check on outdoor installations and open land to assess the risk of fire in those places.

Injuries and Illnesses

Fire inspectors and investigators have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. For example, it can be very dangerous to walk on unstable, fire-damaged structures. Also, inhaling fumes from a fire can result in adverse health issues.

When working in the field, inspectors and investigators often must wear protective clothing, such as boots, gloves, and a helmet.

Work Schedules

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

How to Become a Fire Inspector

Fire inspectors and investigators
Many fire inspectors and investigators have a background in fire suppression.

Fire inspectors and investigators typically have previous work experience as a firefighter or police officer, where many have completed a postsecondary educational program for emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists typically enter the occupation with a high school diploma or equivalent.

Workers attend training academies 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 or police officer, 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 education is typically required.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Most fire inspectors and investigators are required to have work experience in a related occupation, such as firefighters or police officers. Some fire departments or law enforcement agencies require investigators to have a certain number of years within the organization or to be a certain rank, such as lieutenant or captain, before they are eligible for promotion to an inspector or investigator position. Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists also may need experience working in the fire service before being hired.

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.

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, such as the Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) certification from the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) or the Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI) certification from the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI). The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) also offers a CFI certification, although the program is available only to ATF employees. The process of obtaining certification can teach new skills and demonstrate competency.

Fire investigators who work for private companies may have to obtain a private investigator license from their state.

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.

Integrity. Fire inspectors must be consistent in the methods they use to enforce fire codes. They must be unbiased when conducting their research and when testifying as an expert witness in court.

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

Pay

Fire Inspectors

Median annual wages, May 2015

Fire inspectors and investigators

$56,730

Fire inspectors

$54,790

Fire fighting and prevention workers

$47,250

Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists

$36,650

Total, all occupations

$36,200

 

The median annual wage for fire inspectors and investigators was $56,730 in May 2015. 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 $34,260, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $92,120.

The median annual wage for forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists was $36,650 in May 2015. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $24,500, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $78,430.

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

Job Outlook

Fire Inspectors

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists

13%

Total, all occupations

7%

Fire inspectors

6%

Fire inspectors and investigators

5%

Fire fighting and prevention workers

5%

 

Employment of fire inspectors is projected to grow 6 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment growth will vary by specialty.

Employment of fire inspectors and investigators is projected to grow 5 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as 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 13 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. 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. Many job openings will come from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation.

Those who have previous work experience in fire suppression, have completed some fire science education, or have training related to criminal investigation should have the best job prospects.

Employment projections data for fire inspectors, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Fire inspectors

33-2020 14,100 15,000 6 900 [XLSX]

Fire inspectors and investigators

33-2021 12,400 13,100 5 700 [XLSX]

Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists

33-2022 1,700 2,000 13 200 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of fire inspectors.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2015 MEDIAN PAY
Firefighters

Firefighters

Firefighters control and put out fires, and respond to emergency situations where life, property, or the environment is at risk.

Postsecondary nondegree award $46,870
Police and detectives

Police and Detectives

Police officers protect lives and property. Detectives and criminal investigators, who are sometimes called agents or special agents, gather facts and collect evidence of possible crimes.

See How to Become One $60,270
Private detectives and investigators

Private Detectives and Investigators

Private detectives and investigators search for information about legal, financial, and personal matters. They offer many services, such as verifying people’s backgrounds and statements, finding missing persons, and investigating computer crimes.

High school diploma or equivalent $45,610

Contacts for More Information

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

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Fire Inspectors,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/fire-inspectors-and-investigators.htm (visited May 03, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015