Location:
FIRE MARSHAL;

OLR Research Report


January 20, 2009

 

2009-R-0043

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.

SUMMARY

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).

LIABILITY

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).

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