Iowa Department of Public Safety State Fire Marshal Division
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Significant Events Affecting The Office graphic


  • State Fire Marshal Office formed July 5, 1911
  • Fire Marshal Ole Roe placed heavy emphasis on fire incident reporting and created the first fire incident reporting system in Iowa.


  • Fire Marshal J.A. Tracy (former U.S. Deputy Marshal for the Northern District of Iowa) worked the "Hollander Fires" that involved a series of church/school burnings during World War I. Fire Marshal Tracy expanded the Fire Marshal staff and placed a heavier emphasis on investigations.


  • In September a patent was granted to a company to manufacture and install smoke arresters for chimneys. Chimney sparks igniting shingles was the most common cause of farm house fires in the late 1930's. Information from the State Fire Marshal's report provided the factual basis for the research which led to over 50,000 inspections of chimneys in Iowa.


  • The Department of Public Safety was created by the 48th General Assembly with Senate File 379. The Department of Public Safety was placed under Title 5 which is Police Powers. It was assigned to Chapter 80 of the Iowa Code which was previously occupied by the State Fire Marshal and the State Fire Marshal was moved to Chapter 100.


  • The 57th General Assembly re-wrote Chapter 100 and 101 adding and clarifying power to promulgate rules and regulation, thereby emphasizing the duties of fire law enforcement. Powers given to the Fire Marshal and his subordinates, which are normally not practiced by police officers in general, are powers to subpoena and take statements under oath, and investigate situations under his jurisdiction anywhere within the state.


  • Fire Marshal Ed Herron created the Arson Investigation Manual to provide guidance for investigators in solving arson crimes. The book was widely used as the premier guide to investigating fires in Iowa unitl NFPA 921 guidelines were created.


  • On July 1, the Division of the Fire Marshal was divided into two sections. One was the "Arson and Bomb Unit" and the other was "Fire Law Enforcement Unit." Today the sections have evolved to be called the "Arson and Explosives Bureau" and the "Fire Prevention Bureau."


  • Fire Marshal Wilbur Johnson issued a letter to Polk County Fire Officials announcing that Deputy Fire Marshal Scott Bell would be available to conduct fire investigations on an on-call basis. This was the beginning of fire investigations that occured outside the hours of Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.


  • On August 4, Special Agent Mike Hiles used Ty the accelerant detection canine on a fire and later gained court recognition that canines could alert investigators to the presence of accelerants at a fire. Agent Hiles was the fires person in Iowa and most likely the nation to train an accelerant canine and gain court recognition. Ty was used on an arson scene for the first time in an Ottumwa fire on August 6, 1986.


  • Several negative articles appeared in the Des Moines Register announcing state inspections of schools, universities, and prisons have gone unheeded. Pressure from legislators grew to require state facilities to meet Iowa Fire Codes. Inspections at the State Capitol and Terrace Hill made front page headlines. Fire Marshal Roy Marshall addressed the legislature to make fire deficiencies a priority. Additional monies were provided for schools and universities to address fire issues.


  • The Iowa State Fire Marshal Division encountered MIC (Microbiological Influenced Corrosion) in a fire where the sprinkler failed to work properly due to interior corrosion in the pipes. The fire occured in a Lamoni nursing home. Fire Marshal Roy Marshall was first to disseminate word of the find to other State Fire Marshals. While Iowa was first to report the problem, others in the southern portion of the United States found similar problems. The State Fire Marshal developed a protocol of voluntary testing of health care facilities that was the first of its kind in the United States.


  • July 1, at the request of several state fire service associations, legislation was drafted to remove the Institute from Iowa State University, and relocate it within the Iowa Department of Public Safety. The Governor signed house file 2492 during the legislative session, and the transfer of responsibilities occurred July 1, 2000. The Institute was dissolved, and the Fire Service Training Bureau was created within the Division of the State Fire Marshal. Sandy Deacon was appointed Interim Bureau Chief until Randy Novak was appointed July 1, 2000.


  • February and March, Rocket (accelerant detection canine) and Allie (explosive detection canine) were added to the Division. Pete (explosive detection canine) still serves the office after 7 years of service. Canines are used in cases approximately once every two weeks throughout the state. Pete later was removed from service and died in early 2005.
  • March, the State Fire Marshal Division received a state-of-the-art response vehicle equipped with a bomb disposal trailer. The truck and trailer were purchased with assistance from the Department of Homeland Security and the Iowa Emergency Management Department. The truck is equipped with a command center, various compartments where equipment is stored to handle any fire investigation, bombing, disposal, or weapon of mass destruction call.

Bomb Truck Photograph

  • May, the State Fire Marshal Division received a Remotec robot for handling explosives. The purchase of the robot is the first of its kind in Iowa. The robot is used to handle situations involving explosives. The operator can operate the robot via video screen from a safe distance. As of August 2006, there were 5 robots belonging to various Iowa bomb squads.

Robot Photograph



Iowa Department of Public Safety
State Fire Marshal Division
215 East 7th Street | Des Moines, Iowa 50319 | 515-725-6145

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