How Much Does a Fire Inspector Earn Yearly?
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A fire inspector is in charge of ensuring buildings and other structures are following municipal, state, and national codes to ensure a fire safe property. They are often thought of as the first step to ensuring fire safety, whereas firefighters address active fires, and fire investigators examine the cause of a concluded fire.
A fire inspector’s examinations can be broad or narrow, for example examining a shopping mall or a small businesses’ fire extinguishers. Some also work for forest service organizations and address outdoor fire safety and prevention.
Fire inspectors are responsible for a number of duties which ensures they are kept busy during their workdays. Their duties range from technical examinations of equipment to visiting a school and educating children about fire safety. Here are some of the most common jobs a fire inspector does.
Codes that govern fire safety can be found at the federal, state, and municipal level. Additional codes may be found between different complexes, for example restaurants versus schools or apartments versus homes. Fire inspectors need to keep up to date on which codes govern an entity, particularly when serving over multiple districts or moving to a new district.
They often learn about codes in education programs but also need to know how to search the web for up to date information. In many cases, they will need to attend special educational courses throughout their career to receive up to date information.
The majority of commercial buildings are inspected annually by fire inspectors. During these inspections, fire inspectors must ensure fire safety protocols are followed. For example, they ensure that fire exits are properly marked, the proper number of fire extinguishers are in place and are not expired, fire sprinklers are not blocked, and fire doors are not propped open.
Fire inspectors will also pay visits to residential homes upon the sale of a home to ensure smoke detectors are working and the home has proper exits in case of a fire.
During inspections, fire inspectors will also test equipment within buildings. They may test smoke detectors, electrical wiring, or fire alarms. While a failed inspection may result in fines, defective equipment is often replaced by the inspector.
Fire inspectors occasionally are asked by local entities to provide educational programs. They may visit schools and teach children about fire safety and coordinate with local firefighters to oversee fire drills with schools. Fire inspectors also host town-based information programs, particularly in areas where fire safety is a concern or new codes have been passed. Some fire inspectors create videos to share with residents and commercial business owners to further their educational reach.
After inspections are complete, fire inspectors need to update the files of each building they inspect. This can help inform them during future inspections if a building has already received multiple warnings or if they have issued citations. Additionally, noting that certain equipment is faulty throughout multiple inspections indicates that an underlying system is to blame. These files also ensure that inspectors know the layout of the building and if, for example, fire exit maps need to be updated.
Fire inspectors often conduct their inspections either alongside a property owner/manager or update them on their findings immediately afterwards. A fire inspector needs to be able to ask important questions, remain professional, and properly explain which codes, if any, have been violated. Fire inspectors often further work with property owners and managers to solve code violations to ensure proper fire safety.
Unlike the unpredictable schedule of firefighters and fire investigators, fire inspectors often work a standard 40-hour work week. They spend part of their time in an office and part out in the field, conducting inspections and running educational programs. Their job involves a lot of face to face interactions, answering emails, and speaking over the phone. While there is a lot of task variety, fire inspectors also may spend a fair amount of time sitting, whether in an office or their vehicle.
Fire inspectors who work to prevent forest fires spend most of their time outdoors. They may need to drive on dirt roads to get to inspection locations, which are often isolated and without cell service.
Fire inspectors are taught a variety of important skills and knowledge within fire science degree programs. The following is a sample of what fire inspectors learn while obtaining their certificate or degree.
Like many professions, becoming a fire inspector requires a certain level of education but pursuing additional degrees will often provide more assurance of being hired. At minimum, fire inspectors need to obtain a high school degree or an equivalent (e.g., GED). Currently, 20% of fire inspectors hold a high school degree without further education, however employers often favor additional degrees.
Many fire inspectors hold a post-secondary certificate in fire science and/or as an emergency medical technician (EMT’s). Fire inspectors who previously served as a firefighter will hold an EMT certificate but may choose to obtain a degree in fire science before becoming a fire inspector. These individuals can often pursue a degree in fire science while still serving as a fire fighter.
A certificate in fire science is often intensive and lasts one year or less. Associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in fire science are becoming more common in the field, and last 2 years and 4 years, respectively.
The certificate and degree programs offer courses in blueprint reading, educational leadership, codes, and firefighting basics. Fire science degrees can be broad as they are obtained by individuals interested in a range of fire-related careers. Students should make sure to find a fire science program that fits with the inspector career.
In the field of fire inspections, training is often more important than education. When first beginning a job, fire inspectors will train under a more experienced inspector. The number of required training hours is state dependent. For example, Florida requires 200 hours of training whereas several other states have no formal requirements, however training still often occurs. As many fire inspectors have previous experience as a fire fighter, they often come onto the job with some fire-related training.
Gaining a fire inspector certificate is mandatory in the majority of states. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) oversees the basic certifications that include the Certified Fire Inspector I (CFI-I) and the more advanced Certified Fire Inspector II (CFI-II) certificates. Both certificates require passing a written exam and successfully completing multiple inspections, which are often overseen and verified by a more senior inspector.
Other certificates are available which are often sought when inspectors are seeking career advancement. Many are not required, but this depends on where the inspector works and what types of inspections they typically perform. These include the Certified Building Inspector and Certified Building Plans Examiner, among others, which are offered by the NFPA or the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI).
An online fire science degree can help fire inspectors fulfill their education in a more flexible manner. An online certificate program can be a good option for firefighters looking to transfer into the fire inspection field who are not located near a physical certification program. Online degrees are offered that fulfill the requirements for a fire inspector certification program, as well as an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in fire science.
Online degrees may not be accepted by some employers because some skills require in-person demonstrations by instructors and practice by students. However, the majority of skills are generally learned during on the job training as well as through certification programs.
Online degrees often provide enough knowledge and background information to supplement training. Students should make sure to seek out programs that teach a wide variety of skills so they are more prepared for training and fulfilling job duties.
A variety of skills are needed to serve as a fire inspector, many of which are learned on the job or during education programs. The following are a subset of the most common skills a fire inspector should have to correctly perform their job.
Fire inspectors face numerous benefits throughout their career. Jobs in public safety often come with job fulfillment, pride, and community recognition. The following are a number of benefits fire inspectors experience.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the expected number of jobs for fire inspectors is expected to grow by 10% in the next 10 years, compared to 7% job growth overall. This encompasses a range of specific areas fire inspectors may work in and some are expected to grow more than others. For instance, although fire inspectors working for forest service organizations only numbers about 1,700 individuals, this is expected to grow 27% in the next decade.
Forest fire inspectors will be needed more as many states in the United States are experiencing a greater number of highly destructive forest fires each year. These individuals may work for national or state-based organizations and may move around for their job depending on needs. Fire inspectors who inspect buildings will also be in high demand as the number of structures increases over time and fires become more of a threat to cities and towns.
When fires do occur, firefighters are tasked with protecting life and property by putting out the fires. They may work in cities, rural areas, for state agencies, or for national agencies like the Department of Forestry. Some may work only during peak fire season, while others work full-time.
After a fire has occurred, fire investigators are responsible for determining the reason for the occurrence. They may reconstruct a scene, analyze evidence, take photographs, and interview witnesses. Some investigators may carry a weapon and have the power to arrest individuals particularly in cases of arson.
Police officers and detectives are responsible for a variety of tasks, including assisting in arson investigations and ensuring fire inspections were performed. Their duties may be necessary when a building manager is not complying with fire codes or if an organization is being unlawful regarding fire safety.
Like fire inspectors, agricultural inspectors ensure that businesses, individuals, and organizations are following laws and codes to ensure safe practices. They often visit farms, agricultural facilities, and food factories to ensure compliance with safety, food, and environmental regulations. For example, some may focus on processing equipment while others may investigate livestock farms.