What Does a Fire Marshall Do?

You may remember Jim Carrey’s colorful Fire Marshall Bill character from the sketch show In Living Color, but for many of us, we don’t know what a fire marshal actually does with his or her day.

Here are a few of the basic elements of the job:

  • Fire Investigation: The fire marshal analyzes the scene of a fire or explosion to ensure the building was compliant with legal codes and that the fire was not an instance of arson. Fire marshals tend to spend more time and energy, as you can imagine, on fires resulting in death or injury and in significant destruction of property, which is more typical to fires occurring in commercial and governmental facilities.
  • Flammables Detection: The marshal looks at the fire pattern – a basic map of where the fire started and how it spread over time. In so doing, the marshal pays special attention to the presence of any gas, explosives, and flammables using a variety of detection methods.
  • Match Flame Test: The fire marshal uses the match flame test for any materials that may have triggered a fire. The test involves holding a match half an inch away from the substance for twelve seconds to see if it ignites.

  • Conducts Interviews: The marshal meets with occupants of the building, owners or managers, and witnesses; he questions them to get a broad scope of observations at the time of the fire.
  • Writes Reports: A report is filed for each fire. Any reports suspecting an incidence of arson are submitted to the state attorney’s office.
  • Makes Arrests: If arson is suspected, the fire marshal is empowered to arrest potential suspects.
  • Courtroom Testimony: The fire marshal is used by the state as an expert witness, referencing information compiled during the fire investigation.
  • Investigates Negligent Behavior: The marshal scrutinizes individuals thought to be in breach of fire codes to determine possible culpability.