Hagerstown fire marshals lobby for police powers

February 29, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - Hagerstown's fire marshals are lobbying for a law that would give them clear authority to use police powers.

The powers include making warrantless arrests, carrying firearms and serving search warrants, according to Richard Miller, a deputy fire marshal for the city.

For years, the city operated under the same framework as the state fire marshal's office, which has those powers, Miller said.

Last year, because of a question in another jurisdiction about the authority of local fire marshals, they were advised to ask for a bill, he said.


Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, have sponsored matching House and Senate bills to clarify Hagerstown fire marshals' powers.

Miller testified Thursday in Annapolis in favor of Munson's bill, two weeks after doing the same when Donoghue's bill was heard.

Munson told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee that Montgomery, Prince George's and Worcester counties and the city of Annapolis already have had fire marshals' authority clarified in the same way.

During an interview before the House Judiciary Committee held its hearing Feb. 13, Miller said police power is necessary because fire investigations can involve criminal charges.

"If someone's willing to set something on fire, they're willing to hurt somebody," he said.

Without law enforcement power, fire marshals have to wait for police officers to get to the scene.

Miller said the city's fire marshals go through police academy training.

The city currently has one fire marshal and one deputy fire marshal.

In written testimony to the Judicial Proceedings Committee, the Maryland State Police and the Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland, a union, said they support the bill.

"The Office of the State Fire Marshal relies on local fire authorities, where they exist, to provide fire investigation and fire inspection services within their jurisdictional boundaries, effectively addressing local fire/arson issues," the State Police written testimony says. "The City of Hagerstown fire and explosive investigators will be required to meet the minimum qualifications and complete the training required by the Maryland Police Training Commission (MPTC) for a police officer."

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