Top fire marshal is always on the job

January 17, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM


Edward Ernst started his day Sunday investigating a fire that caused extensive damage to a Boonsboro mobile home.

He then spent some time with his family before responding to a fire in downtown Hagerstown. This time he was not investigating; he responded as deputy chief of the Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway and helped control the blaze.

"This is one of those days when I get to do both," Ernst, of Halfway, said on the scene of the fire on South Locust Street.

On Jan. 7, Ernst's dual roles collided again, this time when he was named Deputy State Fire Marshal of the Year for the Western Regional Office at his fire company's banquet.


His supervisor, Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Allen Gosnell, said Ernst's fellow firefighters gave him a standing ovation as the award was announced.

"That just shows the admiration and the respect they have for him," Gosnell said.

He said Ernst's work ethic and success made him the obvious choice for the award. But Ernst doesn't consider closing more fire investigations than national averages unusual.

"I'm just doing my job," he said.

In 2005, Ernst conducted 124 fire investigations and arrested 55 people for the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Western Regional Office. His case-closure rate of 56 percent and arrest rate of 57 percent exceed national averages of 16 percent to 18 percent.

Gosnell said the statistics, along with Ernst's work ethic, earned him the recognition.

Ernst has been in the fire service for nearly 13 years and has been a state fire marshal for about five years. He has been at the Western Maryland office for about one year.

Before applying to become a fire marshal, Ernst said he only knew how to fight fires, not how to investigate them.

"I just never had any police training," he said.

After being hired, he had one month of training before he was allowed to investigate on his own. The day after he was on his own, Ernst made two arrests in Emmitsburg, Md.

"I definitely didn't expect to have arrests that quick," he said.

Gosnell said Ernst is a very aggressive and thorough deputy.

"He's very smart. He's very detail-oriented and he's well-trained. He works hard," he said. "And he realizes that if we don't bring arsonists to justice, nobody else has the resources to do it."

Gosnell said along with Ernst's success in closing cases, his dual roles have helped bridge gaps between fire companies, Hagerstown fire marshals and Maryland state fire marshals.

"He has his finger on the pulse of public safety in Washington County," Gosnell said. "He knows everything that's going on. He knows everyone. He has been instrumental to bringing more efficiency to fire investigations in Washington County."

As the Western Regional Office's Deputy of the Year, Ernst also will be nominated for the statewide honor as Deputy State Fire Marshal of the Year for the Office of the State Fire Marshal. The results of that competition will be announced in June at the annual convention of the Maryland State Fireman's Association in Ocean City, Md.

The Herald-Mail Articles