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History of the West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office and the State Fire Commission
The State Fire Marshal’s Office has always been a small agency charged with a vast range of duties under State Code, including fire investigation, public fire education, fire code inspections, plans review, licensing of blasters, pyrotechnicians, electricians, home inspectors, and much more.
House Bill Number 160 passed on February 23, 1909 and became effective on May 24, 1909 to create the “Fire Marshal Law”. Formed on July 15, 1909, the Fire Marshal’s Department was originally under the control of the State Auditor. Its mission at that time was twofold: to implement an education campaign along with building inspections with the aim of avoiding “fire waste” (fire loss) in the state; and to investigate arson fires and prosecute those guilty of setting fires.
The first State Fire Marshal was Charles A. Ellison of Charleston, WV. He was paid an annual salary of $2,000 and was appointed by the State Auditor. Common expenses at that time included railroad fare, livery bills, telegraph costs, and expenses of witnesses for trials. Total expenditures that first year were $13,273.02.
In 1948, the State Fire Marshal’s Office was transferred under the direction of the State Insurance Commissioner. At that time, the State Fire Marshal was C.A. Raper, whose staff consisted of seven assistant state fire marshals, one industrial fire protection engineer, a secretary and a janitor.
In following years under the Insurance Commission, additional fire marshals, including a deputy fire marshal and plans reviewers, were added.
In 1976, the State Fire Commission was created by Act of the Legislature in the regular session.
At that time, the Office of the Fire Marshal was transferred from the Insurance Commission to the State Fire Commission. WV Code 29-3 charged the State Fire Commission
with responsibility for promulgation of comprehensive regulations for the safeguarding of life and property from the hazards of fire and explosion—now known as the State Fire Code.
By 1983, the office had an Arson Division, an Inspection Division, a Project & Review Division, and a Fire Prevention & Control Division. By 2000, the SFMO consisted of a Fire Investigation Division, Fire Safety Inspection/Plans Review Division, Public Education Division and the Regulatory & Licensing Division. A few years later, the West Virginia Regional Response Program (formed as a result of the events of September 11, 2001 under the [then] Office of Emergency Services) was placed under the operational control of the State Fire Marshal.
The teams respond to all types of hazards including natural disasters. Approximately 522 members from the fire service, emergency medical services and law enforcement provide emergency response capability across six defined regions of the state in the disciplines of Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction, Urban Search/Technical Rescue and Mass Casualty/EMS, operating 19 fleet apparatus.
In 2011, a new division was added to the State Fire Marshal’s Office: the Fire Department Services Division. This division consists of one Supervisor, two Office Assistant II’s, and four Inspectors. Among the responsibilities of this division are the conducting of evaluations of all of West Virginia’s fire departments to ensure compliance with established safety regulations and fire department guidelines; incident reporting; and assignment of emergency vehicle permits.
Today, the State Fire Marshal’s Office continues to provide ever-expanding services to the state of West Virginia.
The original Fire Marshal’s Office began with one State Fire Marshal, one Deputy Fire Marshal, two Assistant State Fire Marshals, and whatever clerical support the Auditor’s Office provided at the time. Since 1909, services to the citizens of this state have increased exponentially over the years while the staff of the State Fire Marshal’s Office remains relatively small at 56 members.
In September 2009, the State Fire Marshal’s Office celebrated 100 years of service to the citizens of West Virginia. This is a milestone achieved by very few other State agencies.
The State Fire Commission and State Fire Marshal’s Office continue its commitment to keeping the public safe from fire and hopes that the next 100 years see an increase in fire protection to life and property in West Virginia.
Officer Down Memorial Page: State Fire Marshal Basil E. Wright
Below is a list of all West Virginia State Fire Marshals, click
to read their biographies.
West Virginia State Fire Marshals
Dates of Service
Charles A. Ellison 07/15/1909 - 04/30/1914
John S. Horan 05/01/1914 - 04/30/1921
C.L. Topping 05/01/1921 - 06/30/1927
Charles W. Nolte 07/01/1927 - 03/31/1929
C.O. Stahlman 04/01/1929 - 03/15/1933
Fred B. Watkins 03/16/1933 - 03/13/1943
Robert H. Kidd 03/15/1943 - 09/30/1948
C. A. Raper 10/01/1948 - 06/30/1957
Carl E. Weimer 07/01/1957 - 01/15/1961
B. E Wright 01/16/1961 - 08/10/1963
Richard Kyle 08/14/1963 - 10/26/1964
Lewis E. Myles 10/27/1964 - 06/16/1969
John Landfried 11/01/1969 - 04/04/1973
Donald W. Brown 04/05/1973 - 01/21/1974
Walter Smittle III 01/21/1974 -12/31/1999
Sterling Lewis Jr. 05/01/2000 - 04/30/2013
Anthony W. Carrico 11/01/2014 - 12/13/2014
Kenneth E. Tyree Jr. 01/01/2015-