Can a Fire Marshal Pull You Over?

In our day and age, there are many different titles within law enforcement and our fire departments—lieutenant, captain, officer, chief, investigator, marshal, inspector. While it’s sometimes hard to follow, you don’t want to be asking yourself that question when you’ve just been pulled over. Finding out that the person who did the traffic stop is a fire marshal may be confusing—but it’s possible.  

Can a fire marshal pull you over?

Can a Fire Marshal Pull You Over?

A fire marshal does have the authority to make traffic stops, but these situations are extremely rare. Most commonly, those stops have something to do with an arson investigation rather than for a speeding ticket.  

But what is a fire marshal, and what do they do? Are they related to the fire inspector? Do they oversee the fire department? What if a firefighter does pull you over? Read on to find out more. 

What is a fire marshal?

Can a Fire Marshal Pull You Over?

A fire marshal, or sometimes called a fire commissioner, typically enforces fire code or investigates the source and cause of a fire. While their duties vary between governmental organizations and areas, they are either part of their own department or they are absorbed into the building department. 

Fire marshals are usually sworn law enforcement officers and firefighters. In many cases, they are part of their own department, and they land somewhere between law enforcement and the fire department. 

While it varies between locations, fire marshals can sometimes carry a weapon and wear a badge. They do not always appear in uniform, either—some are plain clothes officers and can drive unmarked cars. 

Marshals can make arrests when the crime pertains to an arson case or any fire related offenses. Because they are sworn law enforcement officers, they do have that ability, along with issuing citations or even closing a business. 

Fire Marshal vs. Fire Inspector

Can a Fire Marshal Pull You Over?

In other places, marshals can function outside of the purview of law enforcement and conduct building and fire code inspections. They can also enforce flammable materials laws. In some areas, the fire marshal fulfills the same role as the fire inspector—the person who checks those buildings for fire codes. 

As a fire inspector, they are responsible for making sure every building is up to code and suggesting changes if necessary. Safety is key to the fire inspector.

What gives them the fire marshal the authority to pull you over?

Again, although responsibilities change based on location, the fire marshal’s responsibilities are outlined in the Fire Protection and Prevention Act of 1974. The initial report, called America Burning: The Report of the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control, inspired the act the following year after reporting that 12,000 deaths, 300,000 serious injuries, and $11.4 billion in property damage occurred in the U.S. annually due to fires. 

Within the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, it outlines the authority given to area fire marshals, which is still in use today. 

Fire marshals are required to help local agencies in both advising and reviewing fire safety and fire protection services; educate and promote safe practices and safety; investigate and report on fire incidents, enforce fire codes, arrange training, and keep records of reported fires.

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Who can pull you over?

Can a Fire Marshal Pull You Over?

As mentioned before, a fire marshal does have the authority to pull you over and make arrests, but typically it is related to some sort of arson investigation. 

Firefighters are not allowed to make traffic stops, although in some areas, they are allowed to issue citations for infractions. They will not pull you over and give you a ticket and do not have that authority—if they see someone driving recklessly, they will report it to dispatch to have law enforcement take care of the issue instead.

What happens when the impossible happens and a fire marshal does pull you over?

Although firefighters do not have that authority, there have been cases where firefighters have pulled over reckless drivers. The case of the State of North Carolina v. Dorothy Hoogland Verkerk outlines how Verkerk was driving erratically when firefighters pulled her over to avoid a car accident. She was later convicted of driving while impaired with a revoked license but tried to get the case dismissed since she had been pulled over by firefighters, and they did not have that authority. 

In this case, the judge actually ruled on the side of the firefighters, saying they acted within their authority. She was eventually sentenced to 30 days imprisonment, 18 months’ probation, a $1,000 fine, 72 hours of community service, and a revoked license. 

In other cases, the firefighter has been cited for making the traffic stop. In Pennsylvania, an assistant fire chief was cited for improper use of his duty vehicle when he pulled over a driver. He was fined $750 and court costs for the event.

Many of these cases cite the Fourth Amendment, which prevents against unlawful searches and seizures. Because in most cases, firefighters can’t pull you over, this is the most common defense. While rare, if it happens, the case is typically situational and depends on the actions of both the driver and the firefighter attempting the traffic stop. 

So while it is very rare for a fire marshal to pull you over—and even more rare for a firefighter to do so—it is still not out of the realm of possibility. The takeaway here is this: don’t expect your next traffic stop to be conducted by anyone within the fire department or someone serving as a fire marshal. 

RELATED QUESTIONS

What is the difference between a fire marshal and a fire chief?

A fire marshal is within a building department or other department, while the fire chief works within the fire department. The fire marshal investigates arsons and conducts building inspections, while the fire chief works under the fire commissioner and is an operational supervisor over several firefighting companies or battalions. 

What is the difference between an arson investigator and a fire investigator?

While all arson investigators investigate fires, not all fire investigators investigate arsons. An arson investigator looks into situations that are criminal and are considered arsons, while a fire investigator looks into any fire to determine its cause. 

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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.