Fire inspectors play an indispensable role in protecting life and property from catastrophic fires before they begin. They work with city code enforcement agencies, fire departments and other organizations that work with the construction trades and government to ensure that building safety codes are met or exceeded.
Some 73 percent of all fire inspectors work for local (city, county or rural) fire departments, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The remainder of fire inspection professionals take jobs with state or federal agencies, insurance firms and damage assessment companies, or with law offices engaged in property law and damage litigations.
There are many pathways into the profession and employers don’t all require candidates to hold college degrees. However, the BLS says the nine percent in new fire inspector jobs created in the 2020-2020 decade will favor applicants with firefighting experience and post-secondary fire science training.
As a fire inspector, you’ll need to know state and federal building codes and fire safety regulations. But first, you’ll need to know the conditions under which fires originate and spread. You’ll need to know about firefighting tactics and equipment as well as the materials and designs that go into residential, commercial and industrial structures. A great way to get started is to join a firefighting agency or department.
As a volunteer or new firefighter hire, you’ll be required to undergo fire science basic training at a regional, state, or national firefighting academy. While working for the fire department you can enroll in training for basic emergency medical technician or firefighter positions to learn how to prevent or fight blazes in cities or in forested lands. You’ll learn about fire suppression and alarm systems.
Many employers, the BLS says, will prefer candidates with some fire protection engineering, building construction, architecture, or related two-year training. More than 55 percent of all fire inspectors have some post-secondary education. Start soon. Many programs are offered as intensives or built around your ongoing firefighting commitment. States enact their own safety, fire prevention and building codes. You’ll need to learn the strategies behind the codes, how to inspect for compliance, and how to follow up with legal action if the property is substandard.
Students may also take computer software, CAD, and report writing courses. Candidate training requirements vary by state. There are one year, two-year and full four-year fire science degree programs that can lead to certification and employment. That’s why it’s essential to ask all your prospective local or state employers the best way how to become a fire inspector with their agency.
Certificate programs may be completed in a year or less and combine hands-on research and field experience with classroom (or online) lectures. Your program may also include training in hazardous materials handling, investigation procedures, structure audits, installation and maintenance codes for fire alarm and suppression systems, and special problems germane to high-density or high-rise structures, manufacturing facilities, public schools and hospitals, or materials storage buildings.
You should know how to read architectural drawings and blueprints, conduct fire exit drills, inspect operational capabilities for fire sprinkler or alarm systems, and test newly installed or repaired firefighting equipment (static and portable).
Finish your training? Now it’s time to change from firefighter to fire inspector status. Move up within your current firefighting organization or go on the job market with your advanced training and pertinent experience.
Fire inspectors who are employed by public service organizations and law enforcement agencies typically advance in rank through a step-by-step ladder based on education and practical experience. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, for example, fire inspectors or code compliance officers proceed through a four-tier structure, each rating based on detailed knowledge of codes and procedures. With each stage, the inspector gains additional responsibility/accountability in prosecution and enforcement, risk assessment, staff management, training new staff and management.
You should take advanced training to prepare for a nationally recognized fire inspection certification exam. The National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) have established standards and offer qualification examinations for fire inspectors. Certification levels include:
Testing covers topics including occupancy classification, fire equipment installation codes, standpipes and hydrants, fire accelerators, explosives, geological and weather issues. Ongoing firefighting coursework is not only recommended, for most fire organizations require it. You’ll also need refresher courses and technology updates to stay current with fire and building technology. Certifications require testing for renewals.
The median annual 2011 wage was $53,330. More than 14,000 fire inspectors and investigators work around the nation. Fire inspector training can prepare you to take your place among them.