I (Tona Monroe) recently submitted three questions to the Chief Counsel for Fire Prevention & Law Enforcement regarding the State Fire Marshal’s authority related to shutting a jail down for matters related to overcrowding. The questions and answers from Mr. Joseph Underwood are below. The third question should have read “due to” rather than “do to”.
The type of an inmate is not a factor in the State Fire Marshal’s decision to seek to have a jail shut down. This differs from the Tennessee Correction Institute Board of Control jail certification process which does take into account whether inmates are awaiting bed space in a state facility. Thankfully with the state removing the felons to state facilities, overcrowding problems have been greatly reduced. Furthermore with less people in the jail, it is less likely to be shut down due to overcrowding.
“Answers to your Questions:
‘1. Does the Fire Marshal have direct authority to shut down a jail due to overcrowding issues or does he/she have to seek a court order to shut a jail down?’
The State Fire Marshal possesses broad authority pursuant to TCA §§ 68-102-116 and 68-102-116 (see attached documents) regarding buildings and structures that have dangerous or defective conditions which endanger life or property. The State Fire Marshal’s Office works in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General to obtain an Order of Remedy or Remove from a court of specified jurisdiction regarding dangerous or defective conditions in a building or structure. Overcrowding is one of the many factors considered by the State Fire Marshal in the determination of whether to seek an Order of Remedy or Remove.
‘2. When the Fire Marshal examines a jail that is over crowded, does he/she take into account the type of inmates, such as misdemeanants, TDOC felons awaiting bed space in TDOC facilities, federal inmates, etc.?’
Not specifically. The State Fire Marshal examines a building or structure to determine the use and the occupancy limit for such building or structure specifically. Consideration may also be given to the types of fire alarm or fire suppression systems installed in the building, structure or facility as well as the existence of any combustible or flammable materials.
‘3. Does the classification/type of inmates affect his decision to have a jail shut down do to overcrowding issues?’
No, the State Fire Marshal inspects a building, structure or facility in accordance with the applicable building code for such building, structure or facility. Deputy State Fire Marshals will calculate the occupancy limit and use of such building or structure accordingly.
Please let me know if you should have additional questions. Thank you.”
Joseph M. Underwood| Chief Counsel for Fire Prevention & Law Enforcement
Davy Crockett Tower, 8th Floor
500 James Robertson Pkwy
Nashville, TN 37243