Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Career Spotlight: Fire Investigators

Fire investigators determine the origin and causes of fires.

If everything is burned in a fire, how can you tell what caused it? While this is a sensible question, the truth is that there are many things left behind after a fire. Chemical residues, such as gasoline, are easily detected. Arson fires typically burn much hotter and faster, which affects the type of debris left behind. Burn patterns can also tell quite a bit.

There are several ways to investigate a fire. Investigators look for burn patterns. They use "air sampling machines" to detect gases, or use sniffing dogs. Wiring can be checked to see if it was improperly put together. And last but not least, witnesses can provide valuable information about the fire, including when it started and how it changed. Often, fire fighters become witnesses.

Fire investigators work on cases where the cause of a fire may be arson (intentional fires) or criminal negligence (neglect of the property). Investigators take photos of fire damage. They examine fire sites and collect evidence of possible causes of fires. Fire investigators test sites and materials to find out the facts. For example, they test burn patterns and flash points. A flash point is the lowest temperature at which a vapor will ignite. In addition, fire investigators interview witnesses. They also talk to property owners and building occupants. They have the authority to subpoena people to testify if necessary.

Next, fire investigators analyze the evidence and try to determine the probable causes of fires. Fire investigators keep records of known arsonists in their area. They compare the arson methods in new cases against the methods these arsonists have used in the past. They prepare reports of the results of their investigations. Fire investigators have the authority to swear out warrants and arrest suspects. They may also testify in court about fire cases.

Some fire investigators investigate their own fire departments. They search for neglect or violation of laws by employees. Some fire investigators educate the public, particularly children, about the dangers of fire.

Quick Facts:

  • Examine the cause fires
  • Evaluate evidence and prepare reports
  • Have experience as a firefighter, or college level training
  • Work for local and state government agencies
  • Median salary for Ohio $50,200.00 per year
For more detailed information about a career as a fire investigator, or to research other careers go to The Ohio Career Information System website.
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