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Fire warden or fire marshal: what is the difference?

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

This is a common question we are asked, essentially there is no difference between the role of a fire warden and fire marshal in most workplaces (within the UK). However, some organisations may wish to use the two titles to help differentiate between two separate roles.

From the minute a fire alarm is sounded, or an evacuation ordered, it is crucial to have a plan in place to make sure all staff are aware of evacuation points and of all the exits available to them. This is true for all staff and/or customers including those who are disabled, injured or who have mobility issues. This is where regulations should be in place to ensure your business is following the correct procedure in the workplace.

What are the main responsibilities of a fire marshal?

Whatever title you give them, these people have a vital role to play to support effective fire safety in your workplace. They take both preventative and protective measures to safeguard the safety of their colleagues and visitors to your premises.

You should always ensure that your chosen employees complete some formal training. Their main responsibilities are to ensure that there is a safe evacuation in the event of a fire in the workplace. This begins by ensuring that the evacuation plan in place is effective, and that all staff are familiar with it.

In the event of an evacuation taking place, there are several actions that a fire marshal should take to ensure that it runs smoothly. These actions include:

  • Raising the alarm and directing everyone to leave the area using the safest route. People will often freeze or panic upon hearing a fire alarm, so this may involve assertively asking people and/or helping them to remain calm. They may also attempt to evacuate using a dangerous exit, such as a lift, that they need to be directed away from.

  • Checking all accessible spaces in the area to ensure that everyone has been evacuated. This is important because people may be stuck in isolated areas, refuge areas or toilets, and be unable to evacuate quickly.

  • Assisting with evacuations where required. This may be necessary for disabled or vulnerable people who are unable to evacuate safely by themselves.

  • Taking steps to prevent fire and smoke from spreading, such as closing the doors to a room once it has been evacuated. This should only be done when it is safe to do so.

  • Fighting the fire if it is safe to do so. Again, this should only be done in situations where it is safe to do so, such as where the fire is small and close to a fire extinguisher or other item of firefighting equipment.

  • Attending assembly points and taking roll calls. This will help to ensure that everyone has been evacuated, and that nobody re-enters the building before it is safe to do so.

  • Coordinating with other fire marshals is important because it will help to identify any missing people more quickly and ensure that the evacuation was successful.

  • Liaising with the emergency services and passing on key information, such as the location and type of the fire, will allow them to find anyone who is unaccounted for and tackle the fire more easily.

The specific actions that a fire marshal will take during a fire will vary depending on several factors, such as the size of the building and the nature of the fire. However, in all instances, a fire marshal must remain calm, act with confidence, and avoid putting themselves or others in danger during an evacuation.

What are the other responsibilities of a fire marshal?

Fire marshals are also responsible for the day-to-day monitoring and maintaining the fire safety measures in place and promoting good fire safety practices. For example, the fire marshal role may involve:

  • Regularly checking that emergency exits and fire doors are not obstructed and function correctly.

  • Regularly checking any fire safety and firefighting equipment (such as fire extinguishers, break glass call points and emergency lighting) to make sure that it is in good working order and can be used in the case of a fire.

  • Monitoring the adequacy of the fire risk control measures that are in place.

  • Testing the fire alarm and assisting with organising fire drills.

  • Ensuring that any hazardous and flammable materials are stored correctly.

  • Carrying out or assisting with staff training on fire safety.

  • Ensuring that all fire safety activities are documented correctly.

Who is responsible for fire safety in the workplace?

It is important to understand what fire safety measures should be in place in a business to reduce the risk of a fire breaking out. Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, employers and business owners must:

  • Carry out a fire risk assessment and check for fire hazards.

  • Create a fire safety and emergency evacuation plan.

  • Install any necessary fire safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers, alarm systems, and fire safety signs.

  • Provide adequate fire safety training to staff.

The responsibility to carry out the above falls on the employer, building owner, or anyone else who has control of the premises, not the fire marshal. However, a fire marshal can assist with these actions in several ways, which we will explore below.

How many fire marshal’s do I need at my workplace?

Fire safety legislation does not give an exact number of fire marshals required in the workplace. A good starting point is one fire marshal for every 20 people that work at the premises. Your business may have a higher fire risk than most if, for example, flammable materials are stored on site. If that is the case, you should increase the number of fire marshals accordingly.

It’s important to consider that fire marshals will need to complete a training course in order to carry out their duties effectively.

You should make sure that fire marshals do not all take the same period of annual leave. It is imperative that a sufficient number of fire marshals are always present during opening hours so they can perform their duty in the event of a fire.

What training is required to become a fire marshal?

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO), the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006 and the Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010 (FSRNI) make no reference to fire wardens or fire marshal roles. However, the FSO states in articles 13, 15 and 18 that the responsible person must appoint one or more competent persons to assist them in undertaking preventative and protective measures.

Individuals who volunteer for the fire warden/fire marshal must be aged 16 or older before they can attend a formal or accredited fire safety training course. The training should cover areas such as:

  • fire legislation

  • the cost of fires for business and individuals

  • common causes of fires in the workplace

  • understanding the fire triangle and the behaviours of fire

  • understanding the classification of fires

  • understanding the different types of fire extinguisher and what classification of fire they can be used on

  • fire prevention and protection control measures

  • fire safety and fire safety signage

  • understanding the fire marshal role and responsibilities

  • understanding people’s behaviour in a fire situation, and how they can assist

  • the different types of evacuation equipment available and how each can be used (note: training on specific equipment used in a particular company to be completed separately)

  • a practical session on how to use fire extinguishers (subject to risk assessment)

  • On successful completion of the course, a small multiple choice exam should be completed, and a nationally recognised Level 2 Award in Fire Safety or Level 1 Award in Fire Safety Awareness should be provided.

How long does a fire safety qualification last?

Upon completion of their training course, a fire warden/marshal will receive a certificate. The qualification does not have an expiry date but refresher training and keeping up to date with changes to policies, procedures, and new legislation through ongoing CPD is vital. Therefore, best practise is to update the training every three years.

How can we help?

We get that regulations can be hard to get your head around, knowing the different legislation or just staying on top of changes, there’s lots to get to grips with – we are here to help to the load off you. We’ll equip you with all the knowledge you need to be able to produce your own documentation and support you with managing the process as your business changes and grows.

Our Fire Safety experts can visit your business, identify any gaps in your current processes, and advise on any recommendations.

If you would like tailored advice for your workplace, book training for your business or organisation, or simply have a chat then get in touch with Train Direct.

tel. 0330 223 5586,

form. complete the form on our homepage to request a call back.

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