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Certified Fire Investigators

ATF Certified Fire Investigators (CFIs) are special agents with highly specialized training in investigating fire and arson-related crimes. They rapidly deploy to fire scenes to conduct scene examinations, identify, collect and analyze arson-related evidence, and act as the lead criminal investigators for field operations. As subject matter experts, CFIs conduct research to identify current and potential future trends based on major fire-related cases. ATF has CFIs located throughout the country who work closely with members of the U.S. Fire Administration, the National Fire Protection Association, state and local partners, insurance companies and other professional arson investigation organizations in the private sector on arson-related investigations.

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.


Certified Fire Investigators conducting a fire exercise during training

The CFI certification program is designed to give special agents the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to effectively investigate complex fire scenes and arson cases. During the 2-year program, CFI candidates receive more than 300 hours of specialized training.

Training includes:

  • Investigating 100 fire scenes.  
  • Authoring 80 technical origin and cause reports.
  • Working 15 scenes with a current ATF CFI.
  • Reading and written assignments.
  • Creating a peer-reviewed research project relating to fire science.
  • Completing 30 online, tested modules on
  • Attending 7 in-person training courses.
  • Completing 5 graduate-level courses

Specialized training is conducted at three ATF locations:

  • National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland
  • Fire Research Lab in Ammendale, Maryland
  • National Center for Explosives Training and Research at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama

Candidates are also required 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 CFI annual refresher training, and participate in fire scene examinations every year. CFIs are required to recertify their credentials annually.

Working with Hazardous Materials 

Due to the intense nature of fire investigations, CFIs often have to work long hours under hazardous conditions. CFIs 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. CFIs are also trained with Hazardous Waste and Emergency Response certifications.

Combating Violent Crime 

Certified Fire Investigators examining debris in an arson crime scene

In the past, there were few federal agents with fire and arson expertise until ATF established the CFI position in 1986. ATF CFIs provide 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.


Last Updated: May 16, 2024

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