Fire marshals straddle the line between firefighting and police work, working primarily in fire service, investigating the causes of fires and enforcing the fire code. Their training and responsibilities build upon those of fire investigators, but focus much more on the law enforcement aspect of the job. Fire marshals work for state, regional and local fire and law enforcement agencies. The role varies by state and region, and fire marshals can be found working for a diverse range of agencies that include state police, departments of finance, offices of fire investigation, planning and building departments and fire education divisions. Some marshals are appointed, some rise through the ranks and pass qualifying tests, and in rural areas, some are simply special fire officers.
While the duties of fire marshals can vary greatly, those aspiring to the position are likely to face many of the same challenges. The following guide aims to help students find their way from the classroom to the firehouse by give a step-by-step look at the process of becoming a fire marshal.
More often than not, fire marshals are required to have extensive job experience in firefighting. The easiest way to gain this training is also the most traditional: work as a firefighter. A few years in an entry-level or higher position in a fire department should be more than enough experience to fulfill any requirements. In order to get the job, applicants will need at least a high school degree and must be able to pass examinations testing their knowledge and fitness.
For more information on how to become a firefighter, please see our guide.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that prospective fire marshals may be required to attend formal fire science training school, specializing in law enforcement, emergency medical services or forensics. For those who complete the training, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers short courses and training specifically for passing qualification or certification examinations. These certifications, combined with practical firefighting experience, can build a strong portfolio for a candidate.
Fire marshal training often maps directly to the curriculum for fire inspectors and investigators. For example, you may take courses in fire prevention, structural building codes, fire suppression techniques, alarm and reporting equipment, forensic data recovery and burn patterns. While a career as a fire marshal has its practical side, it also entails a fair amount of back-end reporting and legal work. Candidates will need to learn how to gather and mark evidence, prepare testimony and brief the public.
Ongoing education and experience may also be required in order to keep the job once the candidate has secured the position. Fire marshals may wish to test and qualify with the National Association of Fire Investigators as a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI). Master classes and advanced workshops from fire organizations can also help to fill out candidates’ resumes.
Candidates are encouraged to contact the fire department they want to work for ahead of time, because the duties of a fire marshal can vary drastically depending on location. For example, in New York City, the fire marshal is assigned to review more than 4,000 fires a year within the five city boroughs. In Florida, the Division of State Fire Marshal (SFM) oversees 35 fire training colleges in the state, and is charged with the inspection of over 14,000 state buildings and another 16,000 public structures. Virginia fire marshals supervise Fire Prevention Services (FPS) and Hazardous Materials and Investigative Services (HMIS) sections of the state government. In Washington State, the State Fire Marshal’s Office is organized as part of the Washington State Patrol. The office is charged with licensing and controlling fireworks, the certification of sprinkler installers and systems, reviews of school construction and ongoing inspection of boarding homes, childcare centers, hospitals, group homes and nursing homes.
While job duties might differ from state to state, the application process is usually very similar. Applicants should have plenty of prior experience in fire service and all the necessary education. From there, they need only apply for an open position and pass any necessary promotion examinations. Some departments will allow promotions directly from firefighter to fire marshal and some will require a stop at deputy fire marshal.