9th December, 2021

The Difference Between Fire Marshal And Fire Warden Roles

In your workplace, do you need a fire marshal, or a fire warden, or both? What does each role do, and what is the difference between a fire warden and a fire marshal? In this post, we examine both fire safety roles and the duties of each.

The Difference Between Fire Marshal And Fire Warden Roles header image

In fire safety, we often hear the terms fire marshal and fire warden. There is often much confusion between the names, duties, and requirements of each person. Do you need a fire marshal, or a fire warden, or both?

So what is the difference between a fire warden and a fire marshal? And what do both these roles do, exactly, when it comes to fire safety?

First of all, we will answer the most common questions around these roles. What are the differences (and similarities) between a fire warden and a fire marshal? And what do both these roles do, exactly, when it comes to fire safety?

Fire Warden vs Fire Marshal

What is the difference? There is no difference! Well, not always anyway.

Often there is no difference at all between the roles people are asked to carry out as a fire warden and as a fire marshal. Both roles will usually carry out the same duties and have the same responsibilities.

Simply put, fire marshals and fire wardens are people who have extra fire safety duties. They are both expected to assist the person with overall responsibility for fire safety. And they might be trained in emergency firefighting, helping with evacuations and carrying out fire checks and inspections.

18.—(1) The responsible person must, subject to paragraphs (6) and (7), appoint one or more competent persons to assist him in undertaking the preventive and protective measures.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 places duties on a responsible person. This person is responsible for fire safety (hence the name responsible person).

This responsible person is usually the owner or person in control of the premises. And they have overall responsibility for fire safety, in implementing and carrying out preventative and protective fire safety measures.

But the responsible person is not expected to do everything themselves. They might not have the knowledge, expertise or time. But they are expected to ensure that the fire safety duties are complied with, and they can appoint competent persons to assist them with those duties.

These 'competent persons' are who we are talking about when we use the term fire marshals or fire wardens.

Organisations may appoint fire marshals, or fire wardens, or both. The decision on what they call this role is usually down to the individual organisation because, in the regulations, there are no different roles. The term fire marshal, or fire warden, isn't even mentioned in the regulations!

So whether your workplace appoints a fire marshal or a fire warden, these nominated people will usually carry out the same duties. Both roles have fire safety responsibilities, and both need to have adequate fire safety awareness and training.

fire extinguisher

Can you appoint both roles?

Yes, you can appoint both fire wardens and fire marshals. Although fire wardens and fire marshals can often mean the same and have the same duties, you can also split them into different roles. As long as it makes sense for your business, and you make it clear what each person needs to do.

Perhaps they need to split the role into two levels, because of the size or complexity of the business. This is a choice of the business rather than a requirement under the regulations. So it is the business (rather than the law) that will decide what the difference between the two roles is for their workplace.

To avoid confusion, when using both, there should be a difference between the two roles.

In this scenario, fire wardens will usually have day to day fire management duties. Duties will include spot checks, risk assessment, reporting and monitoring of fire safety within the workplace. A fire warden could be considered a proactive fire safety role.

Fire marshals, on the other hand, will have more of a reactive fire safety role. In the event of a fire, they will take charge of alarms, evacuation, firefighting procedures and roll calls.

In this situation, the business has decided to have two types of fire safety assistance and give each role a different name.

Can you combine both roles?

Yes, and for smaller workplaces, this certainly makes more sense.

Where only one or the other role is appointed, chances are the fire marshal or fire warden will carry out both roles, overseen by the ultimate person responsible for fire safety in the premises (the ‘responsible person’).

There is no clear definition of each role, which is why it can vary from business to business, and probably why there is so much confusion around these titles.

There is no reference at all to the roles of the fire marshal or fire warden in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO), which places fire safety duties on organisations in England and Wales. What the RRFSO does require, is for the responsible person to nominate sufficient numbers of competent people within the organisation to assist with fire safety duties.

15.—(1) The responsible person must— [...]

  1. nominate a sufficient number of competent persons to implement those procedures in so far as they relate to the evacuation of relevant persons from the premises;

The duties these nominated people will need to assist with include firefighting and fire detection, evacuation, and provide fire safety assistance.

What these competent people get called is a choice made within the business. You could call them fire wardens, or fire marshalls, or another name if you wish. The most important thing is that the role and duties are clear and understood.

So do you need fire wardens or fire marshals? Well, these days you'll most commonly hear the term fire marshal, but both names are still well used.

If you are working in a smaller business or site, you will most likely have one or the other name in use for your fire safety assistance personnel. The roles are combined.

In larger or more complex organisations, you might split fire safety assistance into two or more roles. In this situation, you could have both fire wardens and fire marshals. It will be down to the organisation to decide on the difference between these roles for their business.

Do you have adequate numbers of fire marshals, wardens or nominated persons? Are your fire safety management procedures compliant with current regulations? Find out more in our Fire Safety eLearning Course.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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