We often see Fire Marshals on TV shows, in movies, and other forms of pop culture. But pop quiz, what do Fire Marshals actually do? I definitely would need to use a lifeline if a million dollars were hanging in the balance. Fortunately for us, Buncombe County Interim Fire Marshal Kevin Tipton is here to answer questions and provide an overview of his department’s role in local government.
From helping connect you to CPR courses to using a sophisticated 3D camera system to assist with fire investigations, the Fire Marshal’s office is involved in numerous and diverse activities throughout the County. Below are Kevin’s own words about what his department does and doesn’t do, how to get in touch with them, and other interesting facts about his office.
Question: Who appoints the Fire Marshal?
Answer: The Fire Marshal is a hired position. They operate under the supervision of the Emergency Services Director. To a great extent, they must also answer to North Carolina’s Office of the State Fire Marshal and Code Qualification Board.
Q: What is the Fire Marshal’s jurisdiction and responsibilities?
A: The Buncombe County Fire Marshal’s Office jurisdiction covers all unincorporated areas of Buncombe County and Woodfin. Since Woodfin does not offer the services our department provides, we are statutorily responsible to provide them. We are also tasked with performing Origin and Cause Investigations on all fires at the request of the Fire Chiefs from of the any of the County’s 19 jurisdictions. This includes fires that are intentionally, and we have a Detective with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office assigned to assist with criminal prosecution.
Another duty that falls in our purview is fire codes inspections on all new construction and existing commercial businesses and multi-family (apartment) residential buildings. We also inspect all Buncombe County schools in the system twice per school year and inspect all renovations and upgrades to the school system buildings. Our office also inspects all County-owned buildings regardless of the location. The Fire Marshal is also responsible for any County-funded projects, such as new construction projects or upgrades at A-B Tech. Our largest project to date is the Pratt-Whitney manufacturing facility.
The Fire Marshal’s office also conducts mandated foster home inspections. All foster homes must be inspected before foster placement and every two years after the initial for renewal purposes.
Our office is also responsible for the initial placement, replacement, or repair of street signs in Buncombe County. Additionally, we work closely with the County’s Planning Department on emergency services access for subdivisions on properties under County ordinances.
Finally, our office is an integral part of Emergency Management. We respond as support team members to disasters in Buncombe County and the surrounding area, and also investigate hazardous materials reports of spills and discharges made to the County and state.
As you can tell, we have a diverse amount of responsibilities. You can stay up to date with our operations by following our Facebook page. For inspection scheduling or general information, call (828) 250-6620, or find us here.
Q: Now that we know more about what you do, how else can the public engage with the Fire Marshal’s office?
A: As part of our growth and development process, we will soon be offering a wide range of prevention and education services. We offer advice and prevention or education to homeowner associations (HOAs), civic groups, and organizations. We can assist groups with finding CPR instructors and referrals to local fire departments. We also share resources on education and fire prevention through our newly created Facebook page. Please like and follow this page for additional information, including weather, news, and fire updates from across the state, region, and nation.
Q: The Fire Marshal’s office has a 3D camera system, can you tell me more about the role that plays in your work?
A: The Fire Marshal’s Office was able to acquire a 3D camera system. We maintain a monthly subscription service for secure cloud storage of scans. Its main purpose is investigative uses. It allows the fire investigators to make a virtual and exact image of a building. Once completed, the scan allows a virtual walk-through of any building. You can enter through any door and look at a building as though you were literally walking through and observing everything in its exact place. This image is clear enough to read a #11 font document lying on a desk.
The 3D camera can also be used in a public setting to map buildings for emergency response plans. It can be used in licensed care facilities to map egress routes. Three members of our staff are trained in the use of this camera system, and it is an invaluable tool in fire investigation. It assists the public, as the images can be shared with insurance adjusters after a citizen has suffered a fire loss. It allows a scene view just as it was observed by the initial investigators and answers questions as to what was present before being disturbed by fire suppression as they perform loss control activities.
Q: What don’t you do that people might think you do?
A: We are not authorized to perform inspections on one- or two-family homes. That falls under the jurisdiction of Permits & Inspections along with rental housing complaints and inspections. Also, we do not arrest anyone for crimes and fires. We are not a law enforcement agency.
Please add anything else interesting or informative about your office, its services, etc.
A: We come to work every day with the mindset of customer service and the core values of honesty, respect, integrity, equity, and collaboration. Our priorities are to protect lives, property, and the environment.
Buncombe County is experiencing a tremendous amount of population growth. In 2021, we were able to add the first new position in over 20 years. As Buncombe County grows, we must grow and adapt. We will continue to plan, ensuring the people have the safest experience as they live, work, and play in Buncombe County.