ATF Certified Fire Investigators (CFIs) are special agents with highly specialized training in investigating arson-related crimes. They rapidly deploy to fire scenes to identify, collect and analyze arson-related evidence, and act as the lead criminal investigator for field operations. As arson experts, CFIs conduct research to identify current and potential future trends based on major fire-related cases.
CFIs work closely with members of the U.S. Fire Administration, the National Fire Protection Association, insurance companies, and other professional arson investigation organizations in the private sector on arson-related investigations. ATF currently has 105 CFIs stationed in 25 field divisions, numerous field and satellite offices, and international offices.
Becoming a CFI
Special agents interested in becoming a CFI must have a minimum of 3 years of service with ATF, reach at least the GS-12 level, and have a current performance appraisal of fully successful or higher. Candidates must also submit a curriculum vitae/resume that lists previous training and experience investigating arson, explosives and other complex cases.
- National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland
- Fire Research Lab in Ammendale, Maryland
- National Center for Explosives Training and Research at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama
CFI training topics include fire origin and cause determination, fire dynamics, fire modeling, building construction, electricity and fire causation, health and safety, scene reconstruction, evidence collection and expert testimony.
Candidates are required to successfully complete 9 weeks of in-person training, 5 graduate level college courses, and numerous reading assignments, then demonstrate that knowledge in real-world applications. They also have to complete a research project and thesis paper on fire science topics with the goal of publication in a scientific journal.
At the conclusion of the 2-year program, all candidates must pass the CFI exam administered by the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI), thus gaining an internationally recognized certification from an independent certification body. Once certified, CFIs must attend ATF’s annual refresher training, and participate in at least 15 fire scene examinations per year. CFIs are required to recertify their credentials annually.
Tactical Resources and Technology
CFIs utilize a variety of tools such as digital photography, 3D imaging, electrical circuit tracers and testers, as well as ordinary hand tools for sampling fire debris for ignitable liquid analysis. Conducting systematic scene examinations and applying the scientific method, CFIs can accurately determine where and how a fire started. Their specialized training and real-world investigative experiences makes them the only experts authorized to issue fire origin and cause determinations.
Working with Hazardous Materials
ATF Certified Fire Investigators battle toxic fumes in candidate class
Due to the intense nature of fire investigations, CFIs often have to work long hours under hazardous conditions. CFIs to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as protective suits and respirators to prevent injuries on the job. PPE protects CFIs from both physical injury and health-related issues associated with exposure to post-fire environments.
Combating Violent Crime
In the past, there were few federal agents with fire and arson expertise until ATF established the CFI position in 1986. ATF CFIs provides expertise and guidance to their interagency partners on fire origin and cause determinations, violent crime investigations involving arson and arson-for-profit, as well as provide expert testimony in the courtroom.
CFIs regularly lead trainings for fellow special agents as well as other local, state and federal fire investigators. Some CFIs also serve on ATF’s National Response Teams and International Response Teams, leveraging their expertise to support investigations across multiple agencies and jurisdictions.