Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fire Marshals: Straddling the Line Between Detective and Firefighter

Fire Marshal Ronald Bucca
As the World Trade Center towers burned, hundreds of law enforcement officers and firefighters rushed into them in an effort to save the thousands of citizens inside. One of those men was Fire Marshal Ronald Bucca.

Although he worked for the New York City Fire Department, Fire Marshal Bucca was actually an armed law enforcement officer, tasked with investigating very serious and deadly crimes involving arson and explosives.

Depending on the jurisdiction, law enforcement fire marshals have been around for quite a long time. I remember my first encounter with one when I was an Explorer for the Fairfax City Police Department in Virginia in the early 1990s. I was assisting with crowd control and other Explorer-duties during the city's annual 4th of July Fireworks display when I met the local fire marshal. I was surprised to learn that he was allowed to carry a gun and wear a vest, but I was even more surprised to learn he was supposed to keep them both in his trunk unless he really needed them (even as a teenager I couldn't find the logic in that!)

But how times have changed. No longer are fire marshals in Fairfax required to keep their guns and vests tucked away in their trunks. That same trend of legitimizing their law enforcement status is taking off around the country as they fulfill a critical - and very specialized - role within the greater law enforcement field, and that role doesn't come without sacrifice.

Unfortunately, Fire Marshal Bucca never came back out of the World Trade Center. He became the first law enforcement fire marshal to be killed in the line of duty in the United States when the towers collapsed. Since his death, only one other law enforcement fire marshal has been killed in the line of duty: Staff Chief Bryan Zollner, of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, was killed in an automobile accident while en route to an out-of-state meeting.

The next time you see one of your local law enforcement fire marshals stop them and thank them for what they do. Although it's not a "traditional" law enforcement job, it's one that is not without risk.