Don’t fear the fire marshal

Wendy SmithFarragut, The Farragut Insider

Dan Johnson is the town of Farragut fire marshal. In spite of the weight of that title, Dan is a really nice guy. He just doesn’t want you to burn your house (or business) down.

Farragut’s fire marshal position is the result of a contract between the town and Rural Metro Fire. The partnership allows Dan to review plans and enforce codes for the town while performing fire investigation and emergency response duties for Rural Metro.

Dan served as a volunteer firefighter before college. (“I chased the fire truck on my bicycle.”) He went on to earn a degree in fire protection engineering technology from Eastern Kentucky University. He now spends his days meeting with development staff about proposed construction projects, conducting inspections of new and existing structures, reviewing residential development plans and educating business owners and the public on fire protection.

One of his recent projects is a booklet written to provide hotel/motel owners with a better understanding of code requirements. It includes common code-related violations along with corrective actions.

“My goal is to maximize compliance with codes while minimizing the frustration that some business owners feel following a visit from the fire marshal’s office.”

The most common business violations include not having fire extinguishers inspected annually, non-functioning exit and emergency lighting (typically due to dead batteries) and blocked exits. All of these are simple fixes, Dan says.

On the residential side, his primary role is making sure that new neighborhoods have adequate emergency vehicle access and educating homeowners on how to avoid fires.

“Since we’re in the grilling season, I like to remind homeowners to keep grills away from the house – out from under overhangs, and definitely not in the garage. Also, smoking material should be discarded in non-combustible containers – not dried flower pots – and extinguished with water before being placed in the trash.”

Dan also serves as vice chair of the Tennessee Fire Service Coalition, a group that keeps an eye out for fire-related legislation. Before the lobbying group was created, lawmakers were prone to changing laws regarding fire safety without consulting experts, he says.

Fire service can be confusing for other folks, too. New residents are often surprised that much of Knox County is serviced by subscription-based Rural Metro Fire, but subscription fire protection is the norm for many parts of the country.

Rural Metro was started in 1948 by newspaper reporter Lou Witzeman, who watched a neighbor’s house go up in flames near Phoenix, Ariz., because there was no fire service in his unincorporated community. Lou raised funds to buy a fire truck and started a four-man fire department before going door-to-door asking neighbors to pay an annual fee for fire service. This turned out to be a solution for communities across the U.S.

While subscriptions are necessary for maintaining fire service in Knox County, Rural Metro crews respond to all fires in the service area, Dan says.

“Firefighters don’t know who has a subscription. They provide emergency services, regardless. But if you have a fire and don’t have a subscription, you’ll get an invoice from the member services division.” Word of warning – firefighting doesn’t come cheap.

Don’t disappoint Dan Johnson. Protect your business by following fire codes, and protect your home by subscribing to Rural Metro Fire and using common sense.

Wendy Smith coordinates marketing and public relations for the town of Farragut.

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