I was watching one of the most famous fire service movies, backdraft. Although the movie can be pretty cheesy, there are aspects of the movie that confuse a lot of people, and continue to either surprise or catch people off gaurd. In this movie, the main character is depicted as a man who is a fire investigator or marshal, who is rivals with his brother at another department who is also a fire investigator. They eventually work together to take down another arsonist. At some point in the movie, the fire marshals enter a home without a warrant of the suspected arsonist. Later in the movie, the marshals go and serve a city official with court documents.
The biggest thing about both of these scenes is that this is usually done by police. You may think that this only applies to movies, but the thing is, there is part reality to this. The biggest question I even had was if firefighters usually carry guns?
Firefighters that are fire marshals have the ability to carry guns, wear plain clothes, or uniform, and even make arrests in fire or arson related investigations. Fire Marshals go through some form of law enforcement training in order to learn how to properly take people safely and legally into custody, they also testify in court in arson related cases.
What Are Fire Marshals
Fire marshals are firefighters that have the additional responsibility to find out how and why things went wrong causing a fire at any given location. This is different from a fire inspector. Inspectors are responsible for making sure that dwellings and buildings are up to code (NFPA or IBC code compliant) to prevent the fire from occurring in the first place. When you have an arsonist running around burning everything to the ground, fire marshals will be on their trail. The fire marshal is similar to a police detective, but for fires. However, just like the police, fire marshals can also make an arrest, not a citizen’s arrest. They can arrest people, because they do have arrest powers like police, but this only happens usually during arson investigations.
How Do You Become A Fire Marshal
In order for you to become a fire marshal, you first of all need to become a firefighter. So this is usually obtaining certifications like firefighter 1 &2, Hazmat, driver/operator, aerial/operator and more. Some additional things that a person aspiring to become a fire marshal is to have many years on the job. Becoming a marshal usually requires a firefighter to be promoted to an officer. Many places require a firefighter to have worked at LEAST 10 years in the department, before becoming eligible to apply for an officer position. Wait, there’s more! Fire marshals usually have some form of fire related degree, like a bachelors degree or master’s degree in fire science or fire behavior. There is a lot of training and experience that goes into becoming a marshal, and it is not a position that you can just walk off the street with.
Fire Marshal Duties
Building Plan Consultations
So what does a fire marshal do when it comes to building construction? They know how to read building plans and assist architects with their design. Many times, architects will draw out what they would like, and consult with the fire marshal, to see if there are already design flaws that can be addressed before the construction begins.
Building Code Enforcement
Fire marshals and fire inspectors both enforce NFPA, IBC and other building codes specific to their jurisdiction. When the owner of a commercial building has a code violation that they just refuse to fix, such as a pile of combustible storage (high piles of old used tires). After repeated orders to correct a code violation that the owner refuses to address, the fire marshal can issue citations (tickets) to that business owner.
Public Safety Liaison
This kind of ties in with the code enforcement I spoke about earlier. Fire marshals also serve as liaisons to the police department, fire department and other government agencies. Here is something that has occurred here in my city. A very popular bar had a live band, where they were selling tickets for viewing of the band. So they locked all exits except one, with a chain and padlock so people would not be able to sneak in. Someone who was concerned for their safety called the non-emergency line to report that she wasn’t sure if it was safe, be she was concerned. This was definitely a life safety code violation, and is considered to be an emergency situation, where it needs to be corrected immediately. This would be a time where law enforcement would be likely to accompany the fire marshal to have this done.
Compliance Record Keeping
Fire marshals are responsible for maintaining a variety of records. One of the main responsibilities a fire marshal has is overseeing the application process for a new occupancy type (new building construction). The term occupancy type is used to determine what the building will be used for, because this will determine the type of safety devices that will be required to operate in that business. A large warehouse type of building that is being used as a warehouse will have different building and fire code requirements compared to that same building being used as an educational facility.
When a business plans on opening up a shop, there are a series of inspections that the marshal must perform, before he/she can sign off on the location opening up. An inspection usually occurs during the initial inspection stage so things such as the sprinkler system can be checked to be sure it is in compliance. A final inspection tends to be done right before the location officially opens. As mentioned briefly, fire marshals tend to deal with complaints as well as investigations. The fire marshal keeps track of inspections, violations, frequent flyers, etc. Keeping these records are vital, because they are not only required by NFPA, but they are official documents that can be and are often referred to in court. Fire marshals are often called up to be witnesses in court for fire related incidents, so record keeping for the fire marshal is imperative that these are accurate and organized.
Fire Drill Arrangements
Fire marshals are also responsible for making sure that businesses and all types of occupancies perform their fire drills. For example, schools are required to have fire drills at set intervals that must be done. Other types of occupancies may require the fire drills to be more frequent or more infrequent. These fire drills are important for multiple reasons. This gives the fire marshal an opportunity to see the egress capacities in use during the fire drill, making sure all exits are working properly and are free of obstructions, as well as the function of fire doors. Although according to NFPA, all fire doors are to remain closed, there are those fire doors propped open with a magnet, and when the fire alarm goes off, it becomes de-energized and the fire door closes. So this is a great time to check if those are working properly as well.
Fire marshals are not the only firefighters that are allowed to carry guns, sometimes the agency that employs them allows them to. We have a department here in Wisconsin called Ashwaubenon Public Safety. They serve the village of Ashwaubenon that is right next to Green Bay, WI. They are called public safety officers, and not firefighters. That is because at this department ,each employee is a firefighter/paramedic & certified police officer, all for the same department. So in a 24 hour shift, they can work as PD for the first 8 hours of the shift, then firefighter/paramedic for the remainder of the shift or vice versa. It is one of those unicorn departments that many people around here tend to try and get into this department.
Depending where a firefighter is employed, and depending on the location, they may be able to carry a weapon. There are several departments nationwide that are similar to the department I mentioned here that also allow it. The number one firefighters that are able to carry nationwide are usually fire marshals. If this is something you would like to do, make sure you grab a free copy of the 4 simple steps to get hired by your dream department down below, it is simple, yet so effective in helping you reach your goals.