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Sorting Out Certification

Sorting Out Certification

By: Cathleen E. Corbitt-Dipierro

How fire investigators are educated and trained is changing. In the past, fire investigation education was largely gained through an apprenticeship model - members of the fire service and police who were interested would learn the profession from experienced fire investigators, and in some cases supplement that with seminars and classes. In more recent years, there has been a strong push for the "standardization" and "formalization" of how fire investigators are trained. The pressures to create a more formal fire education system have come from court decisions regarding expert testimony, current fire investigation professionals who believe that a curriculum-based education model is desirable, media scrutiny of origin and cause determinations, and public expectations for professionalization of emergency services. These forces are all converging to make certification as a fire investigator more and more desirable. Certification is one way that fire investigators can demonstrate their knowledge and skills, as well as their commitment to continuing education in their profession. But, there are different certification programs, designations, and requirements. Letís take a look at the opportunities available to fire investigators seeking certification.

What is Certification?
Certification in the field of fire investigation is a professional credential earned by meeting a set of requirements for professional education in fire investigation. These certification requirements, which typically include classroom training and an exam, are set by the organization issuing the certification. There is no single national standard for certification requirements. There is a national standard for qualifications for the profession of fire investigator. This standard, NFPA 1033, sets forth job performance requirements, establishes minimum education standards and identifies continuing education and training at a post-secondary education level. Some organizations that offer fire investigator certification are accredited by a national accrediting body called the National Board of Fire Service Professional Qualifications (The Pro Board). When an organization achieves Pro Board accreditation, it means that the training and testing they offer that leads to certification meets NFPAís national standards for the education of fire investigation professionals.

More specifically, the designation of certification has two major meanings in the field of fire investigation:

  1. Some States use the word "certification" when requiring that their fire investigators be certified. The State then sets forth the terms for how that certification is earned. Typically, this is a points system that combines experience with classroom instruction. This classroom instruction often occurs at that stateís fire academy. Meeting these requirements leads to certification in that state. This certification may or may not translate to another state or employer. In addition, the certification may or may not be accredited by a third party like the Pro Board.

  2. The term "certification" is also used to refer to the credential earned by completing a national fire investigation training certification program. There are two major organizations that offer a national credential: the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) and the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI). Each organization has a different program. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives also has a fire investigator certification program, however it is open only to ATF Special Agents.
In most cases, certification, once earned, must be maintained through continuing education that fulfills recertification requirements set by the organization that issued the credential.

Investigators should be careful not to confuse "certification" with "certificate." There are colleges and universities that offer certificate programs in fire investigation and related occupations. The U.S. Fire Administrationís National Fire Academy also offers a certificate. These certificate programs are not standardized, may or may not be accredited, and may or may not culminate in a certification. Earning a certificate from one of these programs DOES NOT NECESSARILY mean that you have earned certification as it is currently recognized in the profession. Before enrolling in any program, the investigator should be clear on what he or she will have earned when the program has been completed.

Why Get Certified?
There are many benefits to achieving and maintaining certification, including:
  • Building your knowledge and skills in fire investigation.

  • Fulfilling your agencyís continuing education requirements.

  • Adding to your credentials, which may assist you in advancing your career and/or qualifying as an expert witness.

  • Continually keeping up with developments in the field as part of your recertification process.

  • Receiving recognition for your knowledge and experience.

  • The opportunity to network with other professionals in the field during shared training experiences.

  • Provided that the certification was issued by an accredited organization, certification is an easy way to demonstrate that you have met the minimum job performance requirements for a fire investigator, as defined by NFPA 1033.
What Are the Major Fire Investigator Certification Programs in the United States?
State-level fire investigator certification is typically issued through the stateís fire academy program or a similar approved mechanism. Each state has its own requirements for the state certification. You can find out about your stateís fire investigator certification program by contacting your stateís Fire Marshalís Office.

IAAI Certified Fire Investigator (IAAI -CFI®): Open to all fire investigation professionals; accredited by the National Board of Fire Service Professional Qualifications; requires attainment of 150 points through education, training and experience, application approval by a review committee, and a passing grade on a comprehensive examination; must be renewed every five years; supported with online coursework through CFITrainer.Net; does not require IAAI membership.

IAAI also offers a Fire Investigation Technician credential; however, this is not a certification.

ATF Certified Fire Investigator (ATF CFI): Open only to ATF special agents; 2 year mentored training program.

NAFI Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (NAFI CFEI): Designed as a confirmation of the investigatorís existing skills and experience; requires credentials review and completion of an exam; classroom and online training are not required; requires NAFI membership in good standing; recertification every five years.

NAFI also offers specialized certifications for Fire Investigation Instructor and Vehicle Fire Investigator.

How Do I Determine Which Certification Program is Right for Me?
When determining which national certification program might be right for you, consider these factors:
  • Accreditation: Accreditation of the certification organization by the National Board of Fire Service Professional Qualifications (The Pro Board) ensures that the National Fire Protection Associationís (NFPA) professional qualification standards are being used in the program. In addition, investigators who earn certification from an accredited organization are then eligible to be placed in the Pro Boardís Certification Registry and receive a Certificate of National Certification. The Pro Board encourages reciprocity among certifying agencies it has accredited. This helps assure that certification earned with a Pro Board-accredited organization will be recognized by the department as the investigator seek advancement, and by other departments should the investigator want to transfer. A list of Pro Board accredited states and agencies can be found online at

  • Where the certification will be recognized.

  • Whether the national certification will assist in fulfilling your stateís certification requirements.

  • Reputation of the program.

  • Requirements of the program: Consider the intellectual rigor of the programís requirements; more rigorous requirements can indicate a more meaningful credential.

  • Your career path: Consider how the programís certification will impact your career path.
If you do your research, ask your colleagues, and talk to others who have become certified, you will be in an excellent position to take advantage of the certification opportunities available to you.

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