BCFD Battalion Chief Bryan Cox has been promoted to the position. Cox, who started volunteering with the fire department in 1987, was hired as a full-time employee the following year.
"When I started volunteering it seemed like it would be neat and different," Cox said. "Of course, every boy wants to grow up and be a firefighter or do something along that line. When I got into it, I was [getting ready] to graduate high school and fell in love with it. I knew this was where the Lord wanted me to be and this was my calling."
Cox worked as a firefighter, first at Station 3 in Euharlee before being transferred to Station 1. He is one of three remaining employees who has worked under all four of the county's fire chiefs. Cox was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in 1997 and became one of the first battalion chiefs in 1999.
Early in his career, a structure fire ignited an interest that would eventually lead to this long-awaited path.
"One of the first structure fires that I had after getting started was a kitchen fire," Cox said. "We went in and put the fire out with minimum damage to the structure, but [I wondered] why. It always piqued my curiosity, 'Why did this happen?' And I started looking to figure out why and discovered it was a pot left on the stove unattended, classical food-on-the-stove fire. ... Chief Earnest Miller was there at the time and he really saw [that it] intrigued me. I want to know not only how a building burns but why it burned and what started it."
The Taylorsville native and fourth-generation Bartow County resident carries a passion for the county and a desire to make the area as safe as possible for those who live, work and travel in the locale.
"This is another asset that the county is providing for the business owners and the citizens and our visitors to give us a safer place to live," Cox said. "We want to make it as safe as we can and work together and come up with good working relationships with everybody."
As the fire marshal, Cox will be responsible for investigations of fires and inspections of buildings as well as prevention education.
"Basically, what my role will be is I will be responsible for fire prevention [and] inspections of existing facilities," Cox said. "Also we will evaluate and inspect hazardous material sites where hazardous material is stored and used. We will inspect if any blasting agents or anything of that sort is being used or stored. We will look at, on our commercial burns, when people call for land-clearing purposes to build and construct to make sure the pits are within the federal guidelines [and] that they know and have the proper documentation. To make our environment in our county healthier and safer."
The fire marshal also will work with building inspection, zoning and elected officials to develop codes and ordinances to make the county safer and reduce dollar loss to property. At this point, BCFD has pre-fire plans in place and the only buildings that fall under the state's fire marshal's office are: buildings over 15,000 square feet, public assembly with seating of 300 or more, assembly that serves alcoholic beverages with seating over 100, hospitals, nursing homes, hotels/motels and schools.
Public education is one of the goals Cox has expressed that holds a priority, saying that investigations could find links to why fires begin and new ways to prevent a blaze.
"Through education, which is part of prevention, if we see a trend in growth where the fires are started, then we can take our preventive measures instead of someone else having to go through this and get the word out," Cox said. "When we got the information out to [the public,] if they apply it or not it's up to them."
BCFD Chief Craig Millsap said that the position has been needed for quite some time and expressed confidence that the knowledgeable choice was the best.
"He was the most qualified for the job," Millsap said. "Bryan has been unofficially filling that position for the Bartow County Fire Department for years in addition to his normal duties as the battalion chief. He's an expert in the field and recognized as such with the state fire marshal's office.
"It's a position that we've seen we needed for a long time but unfortunately -- like every other industry -- we suffer the hits that everyone has during this economy. We've got to that point where something had to be put in place while we could. With potential growth that could come into Bartow County, we're at a very crossroads position."
Millsap noted that the various cities within the county have expressed a desire to see this position created and the new, official service will benefit everyone.
"By having this position we can come to the table with the municipalities in helping with their development plans and review the building construction plans for developments that may be coming and provide that input for them so that hopefully the whole county's on the same page," Millsap said. "I'm looking forward to it."
Commissioner Clarence Brown also shared a positive opinion on the creation of the fire marshal position, noting that the state law requires counties with a population over 100,000 to have a fire marshal. Although the county itself falls short of that number, after considering the city of Cartersville has its own fire department and, therefore, that population is not included in the county's figures, the need was known and the decision was made to implement a fire marshal program at this early point rather than waiting until the county is over the population mark.
"The state fire marshal is not doing as much as they used to," Brown said. "We used to depend on them a lot. We've got places where they can't get their license until there's an inspection and we really just got to have a person."
"Think about the county and how big it is," he continued. "We've got a hiring freeze, but this is something we've got to do. We're using a person that is already working with us and I'm glad we had someone who would do this for us."
As the county continues to grow, Cox said his goals are ranked in a priority that involves areas where the most people would be at a given time.
"Our initial goals are to get the state minimums adopted and review what ordinances we need to add to it to make our community safe," Cox said. "It's a big task. We're going to look at where our highest possible loss of life would be [like] hotel/motels, larger public assembly places. We'll come up with a criteria of what goes to the top, and of course, any complaints, concerns, questions, we'll deal with all those as they come in along with the investigations of the fires. We had over 200 working structure fires in 2011."
While Cox has unofficially been filling the needed position for several year, he said the new title is nothing to fear.
"It's not gonna be a new sheriff in town with an iron rule," Cox said. "That's not what this is. There are certain situations when it comes to life safety that we're gonna have to make the building owners and occupants aware of -- that we're gonna have to address, but the whole of this is to make our county safer. As far as us going with the old cliche, 'I'm the new sheriff in town and I'm gonna go in and kick the door off the hinges,' and the Wyatt Earp syndrome, no, that's not going to take place. We're going to educate folks."