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Why your police agency needs an LEO ‘Fire Marshal’

It is important to build a partnership between law enforcement and the citizens that you protect to help ensure the safety of human life and the protection of assets

In most jurisdictions, fire marshals are responsible for fire safety code adoption and enforcement, fire and arson investigation, fire incident data reporting and analysis, public education, and advising Governors and State Legislatures on fire protection.

Much of a fire marshal’s job is to perform walkthroughs of key organizations under his or her jurisdiction — restaurants, manufacturing facilities, schools, and other places of business — pointing out code violations and making recommendations that will help mitigate the incidence of fire, or the injuries and damage caused by it. They may also assist with evacuation drills and offer fire extinguisher training. For example, even if a business has enough fire extinguishers and exits to meet code, the fire marshal might make suggestions that can increase the safety of a building and its occupants.

At the same time, a good fire marshal will also ask for blueprints and will take notes during a walkthrough. For example, he or she will take note of where hazardous or flammable chemicals are stored, the location of an emergency generator and its fuel supply and if there is an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), and any other hazards that could injure or kill firefighters. In addition to a visit from the fire marshal, public and private sector organizations should be encouraged to establish a walkthrough schedule for HAZMAT, ambulance, search and rescue, and law enforcement.

The Law Enforcement Marshal

With the increase in persons and organizations intent on mass injury or death around the world, I believe that it is time for a law enforcement equivalent of the fire marshal. Whether part- or full- time, this position would be responsible for public education and advising local public and private sector organizations, schools, and legislative bodies on building construction and the policies and procedures that can help limit injury and death caused by someone intent on causing harm.

Educating your non-law enforcement constituents can help them prepare to meet your needs, and understanding how your constituents respond to crises can help you better respond to them. Many public and private sector organizations have disaster recovery, business continuity, or risk management programs. In fact, some industries, like banking, mandate that every organization has a business continuity program. These programs are in place to help the organization survive an incident — that is, they are there to keep the business in business after something goes awry — whether cyber or physical.

In general terms, the purpose of a disaster recovery or business continuity program is to:

  1. Ensure the safety of human life
  2. Ensure protection of assets
  3. Ensure continuity of operations (COOP)
  4. Clarify policy expectations
  5. Prevent the disclosure of sensitive information
  6. Delineate notification and escalation procedures
  7. Establish corrective action
  8. Identify causes and perpetrators

Since the purpose of law enforcement encompasses one, two, and eight, it makes sense to work together toward common goals. If you know how to work with them and they know how to work with you, response to an incident might just go a little smoother, decreasing loss of life and damage to property.

Let’s start with educating citizens. The law enforcement crisis marshal needs to help organizations understand that they should:

  • Conduct effective employee screening and background checks
  • Create a system for reporting signs of potentially violent behavior
  • Make counseling services available to employees
  • Develop a business continuity plan which includes policies and procedures for dealing with an active shooter incident and its aftermath

A scheduled building walkthrough is a great way to meet the citizens you are sworn to protect and serve and just like a fire marshal, to learn more about each organization, what they do, and especially, what they do which could cause injury or death to first responders arriving on site.

Crisis Response Box

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a box full of all of the information and resources that are needed for a proper response waiting for the first officers that arrive on site?

I’ve promoted the concept of a “Crisis Response Box” to hundreds of business continuity planners and encouraged them to reach out to local law enforcement. This box might contain keys, maps, emergency contact lists, radios, and other items that can help you better respond to an incident. I describe the crisis response box in more detail here.

Don’t Shoot or Use a Flashlight

Besides the obvious reason for doing a building walkthrough — to build a mental picture of what could be walking into in the future — another reason is for you to map out hazards that may not be obvious in the heat of battle. For example, you may run into deadly or explosive atmospheres from manufacturing processes or an uninterruptible power supply that uses lead-acid batteries.

Firefighters usually carry “intrinsically safe” flashlights. For example, Streamlight sells the HAZ-LO line of intrinsically safe lights. These are of a special design that won’t trigger an explosion in an explosive atmosphere.

If you are in the wrong place you might trigger an explosion if you turn on your flashlight, weapon light, or pull the trigger on your firearm.

In conclusion, encourage your agency to:

  • Support a Law Enforcement Marshal position
  • Perform a walkthrough of key facilities
  • Help constituents build a crisis response binder
  • Ensure business continuity plans have a crisis management component
  • Ensure crisis management plans have activation, escalation, and notification
  • Recommend and help build a crisis response box

It’s important to build a partnership between law enforcement and the citizens that you protect to help ensure the safety of human life and the protection of assets. And above all, it can help your brothers and sisters stay safe when responding to an incident.

Ron LaPedis is an NRA-certified Chief Range Safety Officer, NRA, USCCA and California DOJ-certified instructor, is a uniformed first responder, and frequently writes and speaks on law enforcement, business continuity, cybersecurity, physical security and public/private partnerships.

He has been recognized as a Fellow of the Business Continuity Institute (FBCI), a Distinguished Fellow of the Ponemon Institute, Master Business Continuity Professional (MBCP), and a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).

Contact Ron LaPedis