Expert Witness Corner: A Fire Investigator’s Qualifications

Whether an attorney instructs a fire investigator to carry out work or is facing one across the courtroom it is essential that the lawyer satisfy himself or herself that the expert is properly qualified.

It is a young science and has evolved greatly of the last several years. Due to advances in the science of fire investigation certifying bodies and the courts are paying close attention to who qualifies and how. Investigations are conducted for various reasons ranging from those conducted by public fire departments to identify origin and cause, and whether or not any criminal activity was involved; to those privately financed by insurance companies and individuals to attempt to assign blame and recover loss. This article will discuss the range of education, training, experience, and certifications involved.

Education and Certifications

Formal education various greatly. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1033 “Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator” is a standard for minimum requirements. The NFPA 1033 dictates in general that at a minimum, the investigator must be at least 18 years old and possess a high school diploma or equivalent. In general most will have various educations beyond this minimum. Formal education often varies from an associate’s degree in fire science to bachelors, masters, or doctoral degrees in engineering or other technical sciences.

There are numerous certifications available to demonstrate the minimum levels of competence. The two most recognized associations in the United States that certify are the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI) and the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI). NAFI offers three certifications that act as entry-level certification and documentation of education and experience. These certifications can be obtained upon completing various amounts on-scene training and completing varying amounts of training, often obtainable by attending various directed…

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