With women making up only 3 percent of all firefighters, females have barely cracked the glass ceiling in that occupation. Management firefighting roles, like battalion chief or district chief, fare even worse, with only 150 women in leadership positions as of 2012. Even fewer women work as state fire marshals, one of the highest positions a firefighter can reach, with states like Washington not hiring its first female fire marshal until the 1990s. State fire marshal duties vary from state to state, but include fire code enforcement and fire investigation.
Most states require the state fire marshal to hold a formal degree in fire sciences or a similar degree like engineering, physics or chemistry. At the very minimum, employers require that applicants have taken fire science courses at the college level. Along with a formal education, state fire marshals must have real-world work experience in firefighting. States prefer to hire state marshals who have some management experience as well.
Along with enforcing the fire code in her state, a fire marshal cooperates with state legislature members to create new codes or adapt old codes when necessary. Her department looks into the causes of fires, whether accidental or purposely set, and assists law enforcement with prosecuting arsonists. Other duties the fire marshal oversees include fire data reporting, analysis and advising state officials on fire protection. The fire marshal’s office takes part in public education in schools, businesses and other groups. Some states also use the state fire marshal to manage firefighting training, including hazardous material response, wildland fires and natural gas and pipeline regulation.
Because of the serious nature of a state marshal’s job duties, many employers require a potential fire marshal to go through an extensive interview process. Along with phone and in-person interviews, the applicant must pass an examination that tests the candidate’s knowledge of rules and regulations, fire safety and other advanced fire principles. Other skills and personality traits important for a state fire marshal role include the ability to travel and a willingness to work long hours, including evenings and weekends. State fire marshals should be detail oriented, flexible, reliable and have a clean criminal background.
Because state marshals receive their salary from state government, the amount each fire marshal makes each year varies depending on that state’s budget. In Illinois, for example, as of 2013, the state fire marshal makes $115,000 a year. The state of Massachusetts pays its state fire marshals between $52,000 and $125,200 annually. More experience and a higher degree equal higher pay. As a state employee, the state fire marshal also benefits from top-of-the-line health insurance, a retirement account and sometimes a company car.
- International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services: FAQs
- Spokesman Review: State’s First Female Fire Marshal Submits Resignation
- National Association of State Fire Marshals: Home
- State of California: Deputy Fire Marshal Job Description
- The State Journal-Register: State of Illinois Salaries
- State of Massachusetts: Deputy State Fire Marshal Position
Lindsey Thompson began her writing career in 2001. Her work has been published in the Cincinnati Art Museum's "Member Magazine" and "The Ohio Journalist." You'll also find her work on websites like Airbnb, Chron.com, and USAToday.com. Thompson holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.