How To Become A Fire Marshal

Fire marshals are a hybrid between fire fighter and police officer. Their main task is to investigate the origin of a fire and work with local, state, and federal authorities to ensure legal procedures are met. Fire marshals not only act as investigators, but they also determine whether buildings meet fire codes, train individuals in fire safety, and supervise fire fighter units.

Why Become A Fire Marshal

Fire marshals test fire equipment, sprinklers, and alarms; review and approve emergency evacuation plans; manage arson investigative files; manage burn permit requests and oversee controlled burns; evaluate the safety of fuel storage tanks and air compressors; and much more. On the investigative side, fire marshals work closely with other professionals, such as law enforcement, chemists, engineers, and legal experts. They often act as a police detective, carrying with them the power to arrest and a firearm. Fire marshals work to determine the cause of any fire, and they often testify in a court of law.

Because fire marshals play such an important role in the public, they must maintain superior qualifications:

Fire Marshal Work Environment

Nearly all fire marshals and inspectors work for state and federal government agencies. For those who don’t work for the government, employment at insurance agencies and law offices are most common. Physically, fire marshals work typically consists of field work, although office work is also necessary. They are charged with preventing fires—visiting public facilities, arenas, and industrial sites—as well as investigating fires that occur in any type of structure. Some fire marshals and inspectors work in the capacity of inspecting and preventing forest fires. A small percentage of individuals also work specifically as prevention specialists.

This occupation is dangerous, as fire marshals are subjected to smoke, fire, hazardous materials, poor ventilation, and unsafe structures. Individuals must always wear protective gear when in the field, which includes a helmet, boots, gloves, and they must have access to a mask.

Work in this occupation is fulltime, and requires a flexible schedule. For those involved in inspections, regular business hours are more typical. Needing to inspect a fire can happen any time—any day, night, weekend, or holiday.

Fire Marshal Salary

The median annual salary for a fire inspector, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics is $56,730 (2015). A job as a fire inspector can range from $34,260 to $92,120 depending on location, experience, and capacity/industry.

Forest fire inspectors’ and prevention specialists’ salaries are typically lower than this average, with a median annual salary of $36,650 (2015).

Fire Marshal Career Outlook

Since fire safety is a necessary part of life, fire marshals and inspectors/investigators will always be essential. Because a minimal number of positions open up (someone leaves the job or retires), the competition for this occupation is strong. People typically get into this position through the leadership, character, and skills they demonstrate as fire fighters or police officers.

Although the job growth for a fire inspector is only expected to be 6 percent from 2014 to 2024, their existence is necessary, and so they will continue to have steady employment. Forest fire inspectors and fire prevention specialists will see larger growth at about 13 percent, mostly due to the recent trends of devastating wildfires within the U.S.

Fire Marshal Degree

There is no single pathway to becoming a fire marshal. Many have prior experience as either a fire fighter or police officer, which requires some post-secondary training/education.

Step 1: Obtain relevant education and training. Individuals gain employment as a fire marshal through various means. Most have previously worked as a fire fighter or police officer. It is through experience, interest, and demonstration of leadership that one becomes a fire marshal. Many individuals who choose this path have either earned educational credits as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or have completed an associate or bachelor’s degree in fire science, engineering, or chemistry.

Note: Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists are not required to have a collegiate degree, although some employers prefer it. Many have the equivalent to a high school diploma.

Step 2: Gain work experience and training. Once an individual obtains the appropriate educational credentials (fire fighter, police officer, or EMT), it is important to gain the proper experience and insight needed to become an investigator and inspector. Specialized courses and training programs exist, depending on an individual’s path. Fire marshals have investigative authority and often carry guns, so it is imperative that they are trained as both police officers and fire fighters.

Note: Fire marshals can work in a variety of settings (not just fire stations). Many settings have fire marshal programs for those interested and qualified. The path may include becoming a trainee and then a deputy before becoming a marshal.

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