January 20, 2009
LOCAL FIRE MARSHALS
By: Veronica Rose, Principal Analyst
You asked for general information on fire marshals, including their qualifications, their duties and responsibilities, and how they may be removed from office.
Local fire marshals are town employees, employed by a town's board of fire commissioners or other appropriate local authority specified in law.
Fire marshals must successfully complete education and training requirements and be certified by the state fire marshal before they are appointed or hired. They must also successfully complete at least 90 hours of continuing education every three years.
Fire marshals must enforce, within their jurisdictions, violations of the state fire safety and prevention codes and related laws and regulations. Their duties include:
1. making the initial determination that buildings and structures comply with the state fire safety code and pertinent statutes and regulations, except where the law or regulations expressly provide otherwise;
2. investigating the cause and origins of fire and explosions that cause property and personal damage and deaths;
3. reviewing building plans and inspecting buildings under their jurisdiction for code compliance; and
4. inspecting liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage facilities and tanks.
Fire marshals, acting without malice and in good faith, are not personally liable for property or personal damages caused in discharging their official duties. The town or fire district, as applicable, must defend them in any lawsuits arising from the discharge of such duties.
Fire marshals may be removed from office only for cause. Appointing authorities must remove these officials if they fail to (1) maintain their certification or (2) perform their duties faithfully. The officials are entitled to due process, which includes written notice of the specific grounds for dismissal and an opportunity to be heard in their own defense at a public hearing.
APPOINTMENT OF FIRE MARSHALS
Fire marshals are appointed by a municipality's board of fire commissioners or corresponding authority or the municipality's legislative body, board of selectmen, or warden, as appropriate. The appointing authority must give preference to members of the municipality's regular or volunteer fire department (CGS § 29-297).
CERTIFICATION OF FIRE MARSHALS
Fire marshals must be certified by the state fire marshal. To be initially certified, they must successfully complete a certification program prepared, conducted, or approved by the state fire marshal and Codes and Standards Committee.
To maintain certification, they must successfully complete at least 90 hours of approved training “over a three-year period” (in practice, “over three-year periods” according to the state fire marshal). The state fire marshal may, after notice and opportunity for a public hearing, revoke the certificate of any fire marshal who cannot prove he or she has successfully completed the required training programs (CGS § 29-298).
The state fire marshal may also revoke certificates for negligence or incompetence. He must investigate all written complaints of incompetence and negligence and, if he determines there is probable cause for the complaint, hold a public hearing. He must provide the local fire marshal with (1) written notice of the time (10 to 20 days after the notice) and location of the hearing, (2) a copy of the complaint, and (3) the specific grounds for revocation. The local fire marshal, or his or her counsel, has 30 days to appeal the revocation (CGS § 29-298b).
JURISDICTION AND DUTIES OF FIRE MARSHALS
Fire marshals are responsible for enforcing, within their jurisdictions, provisions of law governing fire safety and fire prevention as well as provisions of codes, mainly the fire safety and fire prevention codes, promulgated under the law. With regard to buildings and structures, fire marshals make the initial determination that buildings and structures comply with the pertinent codes, statutes, and regulations, except where the law or regulations expressly provide otherwise (Conn. Agency Regs. § 29-292-3e(b)). Their authority does not normally extend to state buildings.
The following are among the specific duties that fire marshals must perform:
1. annually inspect all buildings and facilities of public service and occupancies, except one- and two-family dwellings, regulated by the state Fire Safety Code, and inspect other buildings upon receiving an authentic report that they pose a fire hazard that could endanger life (CGS § 29-305);
2. where applicable, review plans for buildings and structures under their jurisdiction to determine compliance with the fire safety code before the building permits are issued (CGS § 29-263);
3. investigate the cause, origin, and circumstances of all fires that caused or threatened to cause property or personal damage or deaths (CGS §§ 29-302 & 29-303);
4. certify that residential buildings subject to the fire safety code are equipped with code-compliant smoke detection and warning equipment before they are issued a certificate of occupancy (CGS § 292(b)).
5. upon receiving a complaint, inspect one-and two-family dwellings to ensure that statutory requirements on smoke detection and warning equipment are satisfied (CGS § 29-305);
6. issue permits for keeping, selling, using, storing, procuring, or transporting explosives (CGS § 29-349(d) &(e));
7. inspect dry cleaning and dry dyeing establishments at least once each year (CGS § 29-326);
8. inspect, at lease once each year, bulk storage tanks, equipment, and cargo tank vehicles at bulk storage installations used to store and transport liquefied petroleum gas and liquefied natural gas (CGS § 29-332);
9. annually inspect storage plants, plant equipment, and cargo tank vehicles at such plants used to store and transport hazardous chemicals (CGS § 29-339);
10. inspect fireworks and special effects display sites (CGS § 29-357);
11. determine the appropriate amount of fire protection and fire extinguishing equipment required at amusement parks and carnivals (CGS § 29-143a); and
12. issue open burning permits (CGS § 22a-174).
Fire marshals, acting in good faith and without malice, are not personally liable for property or personal damage that may result from any act of omission or required or permitted action taken in the discharge of their official duties. The town or fire district, where applicable, must defend any legal proceeding brought against these officials for any such action or omission. The fire marshals cannot be held responsible for or charged the cost of the legal proceeding (CGS § 29-298(b)).
The rationale for this immunity, according to the courts, is the promotion of fearless, vigorous, and effective administration of government policies.
TERMINATION OF FIRE MARSHAL
The law provides that the fire marshal “shall be sworn to the faithful performance of his duties” and “continue to serve in that office until removed for cause” (CGS § 29-297). The appointing authority must remove any fire marshal who fails to (1) maintain the required certification or (2) “faithfully perform the duties of his office” (CGS §§ 29-298 & 29-299).
The law prohibits dismissal of fire marshals unless certain due process conditions are met. The fire marshal must get (1) written notice of the specific grounds for dismissal and (2) an opportunity to be heard in his or her own defense, personally or by counsel, at a public hearing before the pertinent authority. The hearing must be held between five and 10 days after the notice (CGS § 29-300).
The fire marshal has 30 days after the dismissal to appeal to the Superior Court. The court must review the hearing record and if it appears that testimony is necessary for an equitable disposition, it may take evidence or appoint a referee or committee to do so. The court may affirm the action of the authority. Or it may set it aside if it finds that the authority acted illegally or arbitrarily, abused its discretion, or acted with bad faith or malice (CGS § 29-300).