Bill Scanlon mug

Bill Scanlon

National Fire Prevention Week is not until Oct. 2-8, 2022 (I looked it up on the internet), but every day is Fire Prevention Day according to Norman’s new Fire Marshal Matt Elliott.

In the job just a matter of weeks, Matt has his eyes on the future, with new plans for fire prevention (and investigation, should a fire occur) that will affect us all.

Matt has experience as a firefighter, but also is certified by Oklahoma’s Council for Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET, which sets standards for police training). With this certification, Matt is empowered to make arrests for law and code violations.

Matt’s office is co-located with the Plans and Community Development Directorate of city government, where he works closely with the Permits and Code Compliance Divisions. At present, Matt leads a two person shop, but one that will expand in the near future.

When fully staffed, the Fire Marshal’s office will include Matt as chief, a Plans Office (presently, Matt is covering that responsibility), four Fire Inspectors (one following a regular 8 to 5 weekday schedule and three additional inspectors, who will follow a rotation identical to assigned “A,” “B” and “C” fire crew assignments). With this arrangement, there will always be at least one fire inspector on duty.

Matt envisions a “Fire Prevention Team,” which includes not only members of his office, but Plans Permit and Code Compliance as well. He wants to work with developers and builders from the beginning of their projects, and not enter the picture only when inspections and certifications are required by law.

With this approach, potential issues can be resolved early in the life of the project, saving time money for all concerned. And possible confrontations can be avoided, making a positive contribution to Norman’s reputation as a business-friendly community.

It was my privilege to meet with Matt some months ago. At the time, he was working on a project to map all large businesses as to the location of access points, locations of hazards such as propane or oxygen tanks, locations of fire hydrants relative to building locations, etc.

This project is virtually complete, and these site plans are now available to each responding Fire Captain on an iPad while enroute to an incident location. For large business, and smaller ones as well, Matt has updated site plans, which define the best approaches for a large fire apparatus to a particular location.

These are important additions to firefighting; heretofore, responding elements had to devise fire suppression plans after arriving on site. It’s a truism: time matters when responding to a fire.

Regular fire inspections are required by law, and present a scheduling challenge to the Fire Marshal’s office. Being fully staffed will help Matt’s office stay current on these inspections (the legalization of medical marijuana has added to this burden, particularly for growing operations requiring a lot of heat).

But meeting inspection times not only protects consumers — it facilitates the uninterrupted operation of businesses. And it just might be that current inspections preclude, or at least limit, the exercise of the “investigation” part of the Fire Marshal’s portfolio.

Looking to the future, I’ve already noted when to expect Fire Prevention Week. You can go to the internet, and if you visit, you can find all sorts of useful information on daily, weekly and monthly observances.

For example, “I Want To Be Happy Day” was observed on March 3. You’ll see that the “Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” on March 19 — as they have every year since 1776 — and that “World Penguin Day” is April 25.

But don’t miss Fire Prevention Week in October; it will be a celebration of the good things the Fire Marshal’s Office, the “Prevention Team” and the Norman Fire Department are doing for Norman.

Bill Scanlon is a former Ward 6 city councilor who volunteers in support of the Norman Police Department and Norman Fire Department, and serves multiple city committees. Prior to his work in Norman, Scanlon served 26 years in the U.S. Air Force — where he last worked as chief of mission analyses under the assistant chief of staff for the Air Force, Studies and Analyses at the Pentagon — and worked for Northrop Grumman in Washington, D.C.

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