First full-time marshal in years focuses on fire prevention, risk reduction
By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news
Ashland Fire & Rescue has hired Mark Shay as its first dedicated fire marshal in a few years.
Sitting in his office at Fire Station No. 1 on Siskiyou Boulevard Tuesday afternoon, Shay was enthusiastic about joining Ashland Fire & Rescue.
Previously deputy fire marshal for the city of Medford, he said he came to AF&R for several reasons.
First, the community in Ashland. Then there’s the attraction of the position’s challenges, he said.
Ashland has a unique risk with so much wildland-urban interface. AF&R has upped its game to the point of being a national leader in wildfire risk reduction, he said. But because the city hasn’t had a fire marshal in a while, Shay has some catch-up work to do on the bread and butter of a fire marshal’s work — fire prevention.
A fire marshal is responsible for fire inspections of businesses, pre-construction planning, and leading education and outreach, he said.
Ralph Sartain was deputy fire marshal in Medford before becoming chief of AF&R, enabling him to be capable of taking on the duties of a fire marshal and a chief at the same time. But with the position only half filled, it hasn’t been possible to do the full volume of work required.
“It’s been done, just at a lower volume. We’re going to increase the volume,” Shay said.
Businesses and facilities with a high risk, such as schools, nursing homes and churches — places where large numbers of people congregate — will be top priority for inspections, he said.
“Inspection is about meeting code compliance, but it’s also about safety. We’re going to work with businesses,” he said.
The city of Ashland has previously stated the building at 2200 Ashland St. cannot be used as a shelter because it does not meet fire code for that purpose. Asked about the future of the building, Shay said like most buildings it was purpose-built. Under fire code, it could be an office building. But until he personally reviews the property he could not speculate what other purposes the building could have or what changes would need to be made.
Shay expressed a dedication for early childhood education in fire safety and general public education. While AF&R has historically had a strong presence in Ashland schools, he said he looks forward to finding ways to expand outreach and education.
As fire marshal, Shay is also working on updating the city’s fire code. Ashland renews its fire code every three years, and the next update will be up for approval from Ashland City Council in March, he said. The code has to be updated to accommodate for potential new fire risks, such as changing technology.
“The last time the fire code was published, lithium ion batteries weren’t really that big of a deal. They are a big deal now, they’re addressed by their own chapter in the fire code now,” he said.
Ashland residents have adopted electric vehicles at a high rate. Solar power with additional battery storage is also becoming more prevalent and usually involves a lithium ion battery, he said. The highest risk of fire comes from consumer electronics purchased from overseas and produced without UL (Underwriters Laboratory) quality control inspections. Regionally, these consumer electronics have presented the largest fire risk. As fire marshal, he offered the public some safety advice.
“Initially it might look like … your device kind of bulges out. And what that when would look like, with a fire failure, fire shooting out the side of whatever it is. … One of the best safety messages there is for people to buy UL listed devices. If you’re going to charge a device, don’t overcharge it and make sure you’re home and not charging it overnight,” he said.
In addition to preventing fires through education, Shay has also been placed in charge of the department’s new risk reduction division. The division combines fire and life safety and the wildfire division under one umbrella, he said.
The division is working on updating Ashland’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan.
“It gives us a framework to move ahead regarding how we’re going to reduce wildfire risk in the city. And working under community risk reduction. … We’re trying to take a whole community look, instead of just the wildfire perspective,” he said.
Previously, the plan focused on wildfire risk as something adjacent too and coming from outside the city. Now, the plan aims to accommodate for the wildfire risk posed by urban vegetation such as the field where the Almeda Fire surprised the region. By looking at wildfire risk as something larger and more complex, AF&R hopes to devise a more agile plan.
The department is expanding and becoming more adaptable overall thanks to broad community support, he said.
“My position being funded, and at the same time that I was hired we hired a new training officer. We’ve built out our single role EMS (Emergency Medical Services) program, that’s all thanks to the support of the public, City Council, and our city manager. And we truly, greatly appreciate it,” he said.
Above all, Shay said he was excited to be part of the team at AF&R.
Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feb. 1: Fire marshal’s name corrected.