If you are relatively unfamiliar with the fire service, you may not be aware of the role of the fire marshal. We see firefighters tackling blazes and heading out on emergency calls, and see references to marshals carrying out safety checks. But, is there more to the responsibilities and duties of a fire marshal than just fire prevention?
Generally, the fire marshal is responsible for fire investigation, fire prevention, code enforcement, public education, and more. This means ensuring buildings are up to code and determining the causes of any fires that do occur. This can also give them some jurisdiction in law enforcement.
Let’s go over some of the key roles and expectations in more detail to see why fire marshals are such an important part of the fire service. We will also look at their place within law enforcement, how they differ from fire wardens, and the training required.
Fire Marshal Responsibilities Vary Between States
One thing to be aware of if you are keen to become a fire marshal is that the role isn’t always the same in each state.
Some state departments will place higher expectations on fire marshals when it comes to arson investigations and other dangerous situations.
For example, departments trained for hazmat and chemical situations may require marshals to investigate more hazardous incidents.
Elsewhere. communities may see fire marshals in a more hands-on role in providing support and education.
The roles can also depend on the area and state laws.
For example, in some states, fire marshals are responsible for regulations regarding the sale of fireworks. This, of course, depends on whether they are legal in your area or not.
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Fire Marshals And Fire Investigations
A vital aspect of the role of the fire marshal is investigating fires. This means going into a building after a blaze – be it a house fire, industrial fire, or something else – and figuring out what happened.
This is no easy task when evidence easily turns to ash. But, skilled investigators can determine the suspected journey of the fire and take it back to its origins.
There is a detailed process here that requires expertise across different disciplines.
First, investigators need to make sure that the crime scene is secure, not just for those entering the building to preserve evidence.
This will allow for an uncontaminated scene where marshals can go over the evidence and evaluate everything effectively.
Doing so also means the ability to document and log all the evidence for future reference, to build a case.
Finally, they need to compile a thorough report determining the causes and important factors. These findings will determine the need for further criminal investigation and prosecution.
Fire Marshals And Fire Prevention
Ideally, fire marshals won’t find themselves dealing with too many of these blazes. Everyone would much prefer that the buildings remained safe and well-protected from fire risks.
This is why it is so important for fire marshals to also work on fire prevention methods.
A large part of this comes from informing builders and contractors about fire safety codes. This should mean that the building is much safer should a fire break out and that there are appropriate fire escapes, signs, extinguishers, and anything else that the site needs for public safety.
Effective fire marshals that communicate these codes well should see fewer devastating blazes. There may still be accidental fires and property damage, but hopefully on a smaller scale without loss of life.
The best fire marshals in the area will also carry out regular checks to make sure that public buildings don’t fall behind.
This means checking on fire alarm systems, and fire escape access, and keeping fire prevention tools in prime condition for use.
Fire Marshals And Fire Education
It isn’t just building owners and construction companies that need education on fire safety. We can all benefit from learning more about keeping our homes and businesses safe.
What may seem like common sense to a firefighter may not cross the mind of the average person on the street.
So, the more information and education there is available, the better. Fire marshals can have a big hand in the creation of literature and the topics of public talks, or they may even give those talks themselves.
There are benefits in acting as a friendly public face of the fire service and being there to answer questions.
On top of this, there is also the issue of education for those within the fire department. There is always something new to learn or skills to master as a firefighter.
Even when you think you know it all, something new will arise that requires updated training and a refresher course.
Fire marshals can help by creating the best possible courses and guiding firefighters through the materials and assessments.
Again, there is that advantage in having the hands-on approach to deliver that information efficiently and give a sense of authority.
House fires can be devastating. Check out this article I wrote about the 9 most common causes of house fires and how to prevent them.
Are Fire Marshals Considered Law Enforcement?
This is often the case because of the nature of the job. But, it can depend on the area and responsibilities.
Many have some powers within law enforcement as they handle arson cases.
Fire inspections by qualified fire marshals are essential for arson cases to determine the origin point of the fire and potential materials and accelerants used.
These reports and any corresponding evidence are then used in the case as justification for arrests and in subsequent trials.
Some fire marshals can cut out the middlemen in the police force by carrying out those arrests and presenting the evidence themselves.
It makes sense given their expertise and connection to the investigation.
In many states, fire marshals aren’t guaranteed a place as law enforcement officers. However, this is an automatic perk of the job in New York.
This additional role also means that some fire marshals are allowed to carry firearms.
What Is The Difference Between A Fire Marshal And Fire Warden?
This is where there is some confusion.
The terms fire marshal and fire inspector are interchangeable when referring to the different roles and responsibilities of those dealing with the investigations and safety practices above.
But, over in the UK, a fire marshal is a civilian role where employees take responsibility for fire safety checks and evacuation procedures in their places of work.
This is also seen in offices and warehouses in the United States, but you may know the term as a fire warden instead.
So what does a fire warden do?
Well, there are some similarities when it comes to fire safety. The warden should check fire escapes and fire equipment to make sure that everything is up to code in case of a fire.
They should also have a clear evacuation plan in place, which they then carry out in drills routinely. It is up to them to ensure that everyone is out and in a safe place, while also alerting the fire department.
In some cases, these wardens will have to handle some firefighting duties if they can hold back a fire. They may also be expected to perform first aid as needed.
While these fire wardens don’t have to be fully trained firefighters, some training is essential for the role.
Experience with fire extinguishers and safety procedures is a must, and certification is available to get up to speed.
What Does It Take To Become A Fire Marshal?
You might not require too much training or experience to be a fire warden for an office complex. But, that isn’t the case with fire marshals.
Here you need years of experience and training to be able to handle all the fire marshal responsibilities effectively.
Fire marshals tend to work their way up through the system with years of work as firefighters, before progressing into this role.
There is also the expectation that fire marshals should have a good education in fire science and related fire studies.
This could mean a bachelor’s degree in the field, or perhaps even a master’s if you wanted to increase your skills and knowledge.
From there, it is a good idea to continue training and gain certification in various related skills.
All marshals need to be fully up to date with the codes and regulations for their area and best practices for fire prevention.
Fire Marshals Are An Essential Part Of The Fire Service.
It is admirable to want to become a fire marshal after years of service in the fire department. This role provides so much more for the community beyond the active role of putting out fires and handling emergency incidents.
The best fire marshals are always there to make sure that our buildings are fit for purpose and to limit the risks of major fires and fatalities.
Should the worst happen, such as an arson attack, they are right there to perform a professional investigation and provide justice. Our cities would be very different without them.