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The Role of a Fire Marshal

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Fire prevention is everybody's responsibility. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, residential fires killed more than 2,600 Americans in 2010, and injured another 13,300, and these fire-related injuries resulted in at least $7.5 billion in treatment costs. These statistics do not include injuries or fatalities at workplaces or public locations such as manufacturing plants, refineries, offices or restaurants. A fire marshal is a state or local official whose job is to revise and enforce fire safety codes and educate the public regarding fire prevention best practices.

Developing and Enforcing Fire Safety Codes

One of the primary responsibilities of a fire marshal is to develop and enforce fire safety codes. Since fire safety codes already exist in most communities, fire marshals typically review and revise both residential and commercial codes to reflect the latest best practices in fire prevention. Modern fire prevention best practices include construction with low ignition and/or slow burning materials and smoke- or heat-triggered overhead sprinkler or foam fire suppression systems. The fire marshal's office is also responsible for regular, usually annual, inspections of commercial or public buildings, as well as inspecting new buildings during construction.

Fire and Arson Investigation

In most cases, fire marshals are also the lead investigators in determining the cause of a fire, as well as determining if there is a possibility of arson. Fire marshal's offices frequently employ fire inspectors, fire safety technicians and forensic laboratory staff to assist with investigations. Law enforcement personnel typically work closely with fire marshals in arson investigations.

Public Education

Educating the public about fire safety and fire prevention is one of a fire marshal's most important duties. The type of fire safety education provided by the fire marshal's office varies significantly by jurisdiction, resources and personality, but visits to schools, nursing homes, manufacturing plants and other places of business are common, as is maintaining a website. Some fire marshals also assist in organizing fire drills or training programs in the use of fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems or defibrillators for state, county, city or school district employees.

State and Local Fire Marshals

The responsibilities of state fire marshals vary by state, but their role typically involves fire safety code development and enforcement, fire and arson investigations, maintaining fire incident data, public education and advising state officials regarding on fire prevention and safety policies. State fire marshals usually have an active role in wildfire control, wildlife safety and land conservation. Local fire marshals have similar responsibilities, but tend to focus more on administration and operations than education and policy.