Answering the call: Cape fire marshal was at first leery of job, now enjoys it

Monday, October 4, 2010
Battalion chief Brian Shaffer is the fire marshal with the Cape Girardeau Fire Department.

As October's Fire Prevention Week kicks off, Brian Shaffer, battalion chief and fire marshal with the Cape Girardeau Fire Department, has a full schedule. He'll be visiting nearly ever school in the area to help teach fire prevention tips and perform fire drills. Before he was a fire marshal, though, Shaffer responded to fire calls with the department for at least 20 years. He joined the Cape Girardeau crew in 1986 after holding a firefighter position in the U.S. Navy and working as an emergency medical technician for the North Scott County Ambulance.

Question: What's your experience in firefighting?

Answer: I joined the Navy after high school. That's when I had my first experience with firefighting. I went to a three-day firefighting school. After that, when I returned back to my ship I was put on the import fire party. After my discharge from the Navy, I got my EMT license and I worked for North Scott County Ambulance. Several of the EMTs and paramedics I worked with were volunteer firefighters. After that time I had experience with firefighting as far as structure firefighting, so I had interest in firefighting from talking to them and working with them. So when Cape Girardeau Fire Department was testing, I applied and passed their tests.

Q: What do you enjoy about being in part of the crew in Cape Girardeau?

A: As far as the fire department, I really enjoy the camaraderie of the firefighters. We're a close-knit group. I spent the majority of my career, at least 20 years, on the firetruck, so I was working 24-hour shifts. This is our second home, as most people know. You just learn to enjoy the camaraderie and the sense of humor that the firefighters have. It always make it entertaining.

Q: How did you end up the department's fire marshal?

A: About three years ago I was asked to fill in as the acting fire marshal while the previous fire marshal-- Mike Morgan -- was going to go on active duty in the military. I was leery about doing the job, because I enjoyed what I was doing on the trucks. I did that for approximately six months, and much to my surprise I found this job to be very challenging but very exciting and very fulfilling. So after chief Morgan finally retired about two years ago, I was brought into the fire marshal's position once again. I thoroughly enjoy what I do, enforcing fire codes, building codes and public safety education.

Q: What did you initially find challenging about being fire marshal?

A: The technical aspects of it. You have to get into the codes a lot; you have to do a lot of research. You're always learning, always getting into the codes. So it was a challenge.

Fire departments across the country typically don't put as much emphasis into fire prevention; they put more emphasis on the fire suppression part, where in Europe it's just the opposite. They put more emphasis on fire prevention. Therefore, they have a lower rate of fires, actually, than here in the United States. I find this to be an opportunity to be more proactive instead of reactive.

Q: Tell me about the education you provide to the community.

A: We enforce the building codes and fire codes. That's often the bad part of the job because people don't like being told they have to comply with the codes. As far as public education, we do the Stop Drop and Roll program for kids. We do lots of fire drills and of course this month with October having Fire Prevention Week we'll be doing fire drills at all the schools. We do live fire burns with fire extinguishers when companies want to learn how to use a fire extinguisher. They don't know how to operate them, they're scared to use them, they're not sure how to use them. It's valuable education for them.

Q: What are some important fire prevention tips?

A: There are four main causes of fires in the home. Kitchen fires are the leading cause of fire. There's heating appliances, then there's smoking, and there's electrical. Even though smoking is the third-leading cause of fire, it's the No. 1 cause of fatalities in the home. As far as smoking goes, just don't smoke in your home, and if you have to smoke in your home, don't smoke in bed or in your recliner or couch.

There are two other things you can do to increase your survival in a home. Have a working smoke detector on each level of your house and have an escape plan that the whole family knows how to utilize. On your smoke detectors you want to test them at least once a month by hitting the test button; make sure it beeps. Change the batteries every six months. The fire department recommends doing it with the time change and replace your smoke detector about every 10 years because that's about the shelf life of a smoke detector.


Pertinent Address:

1 S. Sprigg St, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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