Fire Marshal or Fire Warden? – Career Spotlight

Whether you're thinking of joining the service yourself or want to know what you can expect from them as a citizen, here is a quick and dirty career spotlight on everything that comes with the title - duties, career roadmap, the lot.

There are around 22,000 non-residential fires in the UK every year. Whether you have a child at school, work in an office, or are attending the cinema, a fire could strike at any time.

Beyond the risk to life, fires pose a threat to businesses. Around 60% would be unable to financially recover. As such, owners often employ fire marshal’s to implement safety measures and keep their business safe.

But what is the role of a fire marshal? Beyond the basics, like pointing out emergency exits, what do they do?

Fire safety has been at the forefront of people’s minds since the UK Grenfell Tower incident, which led to 72 deaths. Since then, every business must comply with new legislation.

Whether you’re thinking of joining the service yourself or want to know what you can expect from them as a citizen, here is a quick and dirty career spotlight on everything that comes with the title – duties, career roadmap, the lot.

But firstly, let’s address the elephant in the room…

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

There’s no legal difference between a marshal and a warden. They play the same role and usually perform the same responsibilities. Most businesses hire one to perform all the duties. But larger companies often choose to split the roles. In doing so, they define the two differently.

In cases like these, wardens usually perform the daily management duties, like risk assessments and reporting simple fire prevention procedures to keep customers safe. While the fire marshal plays a more reactive role: sounding the alarm, and leading the evacuation when a fire breaks out.

What is a fire marshal?

Put simply, they are designated civilians (usually members of staff) left in charge of a business’s fire safety duties. Stereotypically, they are responsible for evacuating a building or completing a register during a drill.

But they also play a key role in prevention and detection. Typically through regular checks, diligent risk assessments, and monitoring a workplace.

It’s important to note the fire marshal is not responsible for everything fire-related. Yes, they review emergency evacuation procedures and assess whether they are matching safety legislation. But they rarely implement changes themselves. Instead, they report their findings to the business owner.

What are their duties?

We know their main responsibilities: they work to prevent fires and minimise damage. But what steps do they take to achieve this?

Prevention duties include:

  1. Performing risk assessments. For example: checking that electrical devices have been properly tested. Once identified, they can make suggestions to minimise the risk. Such as “only use a device if PAT tested.”
  2. Planning and managing hazards. If they are expecting a shipment that contains flammable liquids, how are they going to store it correctly?
  3. Ensuring employees know the company safety practice. Legally, they must tell staff what to do in case of a fire. They are also obligated to perform an annual refresher.
  4. Preparing for a blaze and ensuring a safe evacuation. Which includes:

a. Checking emergency exits are free from obstruction.

b. Making sure the correct fire extinguishers, hose reels, blankets are serviced and appropriately located around the building.

c. Performing monthly emergency lighting checks and a weekly review of fire alarms.

d. Comparing the business premises with relevant fire safety laws.

Duties during an outbreak include:

  1. Raising the alarm and closing doors to prevent the spread.
  2. Pointing people to exits and performing a floor sweep. Has everyone left safely?
  3. Using an extinguisher to tackle a small blaze.
  4. Helping at the assembly point. Is everyone present? Are absences accounted for?

It’s important to note that marshals are not fully trained firefighters. They should only tackle a blaze during the early, more manageable stages.  

Is having a fire marshal a legal requirement?

Under The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005) every employer is classed as a “responsible person.” They have a duty to keep their customers safe. By law, they must:

  1. establish emergency procedures and ensure they are adhering to fire safety legislation and procedures. They are legally required to do so by:
  2. hiring a sufficient number of trained staff (known as “competent people,”) to help them fulfil this obligation.

The competent person plays a similar role in fire safety, as an “appointed person” does in first aid. They assist in implementing and reviewing safety procedures. At a minimum, they must have basic training and an understanding of simple fire prevention. 

fire marshal or warden are examples of a “competent person.” The decision of which to hire lies with the organisation. In the eyes of the law, both fit the role.

Career Roadmap

What is a fire marshal Certificate?

It’s vital that a warden has up-to-date knowledge that they continually test and refresh. Having a valid certificate tells your employers that you do. 

If you have been appointed or would like to be appointed as a Fire Marshall in your workplace, you can get the Fire Marshal Certificate. It demonstrates that you have completed specialist fire training and are able to contribute to the overall fire safety in your workplace. They last for three years. After that, you may need to renew it.

Do I need to renew my certificate?

As a Fire Warden, your certificate essentially states that you are capable and competent at preventing and exterminating fires. Obviously, if this ceases to be the, for one reason or another, then the certificate will need to be renewed. There are a variety of reasons that may warrant you redoing your fire safety training.  You may have changed employment and your new company demands a current certificate. Another possible scenario is that you have been trained as a Warden but have not been executing the tasks for some time and need to retrain.

So what training do I need?

In accordance with the regulatory reform order (2005,) “competent people” must have basic training. To ensure they have adequate experience and skills, most organisations want someone who has formal training.

Having a certified warden on site helps the “responsible person” meet their legal responsibility. It’s proof they have taken the necessary steps to reduce risk.

Most businesses prefer certified marshals. Those approved by the official Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) teach things like: legislation; safety; evacuation procedures; and how to use fire extinguishers. Doing an accredited course serves as an industry standard, and will properly equip you with the necessary skills.

It will also make you more attractive to employers. If you’re interested in becoming a fire marshal, we recommend checking out our RoSPA & CPD accredited course.

What the training usually covers

To give you a better understanding of what our course offers, let’s explore some FAQ’s that it answers. If you want to learn more, check out the courses for yourself.

Who is classed as a “competent person”?

As mentioned, they are a designated member of staff, who help an employer meet their fire safety responsibilities. Typically, this is a fire warden.

What does the “responsible person” do?

They are the employer who bears the legal responsibility. To fulfil their obligations, they employ a “competent person.” They regularly review their findings and implement their suggestions.

What type of extinguisher should you use on construction sites?

As a construction site handles different materials, it’s crucial they have suitable fire extinguishers to hand. The type needed depends on the nature of a blaze:

– If they’re dealing with wood, paper, and cloth, a water extinguisher should be used.

– When dealing with flammable liquids, a dry powder version is needed.

– When treating an electrical fire, a Co2 one is required.

Final thoughts

A fire could strike at any time. Whether we’re in the office or are going shopping, we rely on the policies and precautions of wardens.

In this article, we explored which organisations need a warden, and their daily duties and responsibilities. We also discussed how you can become accredited by completing the relevant training and receiving your three-year certification.  

This post was last modified on 27 May 2021

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