South Tahoe parceling out fire marshal responsibilities


By Kathryn Reed

South Lake Tahoe Fire Department is the only agency in the Lake Tahoe Basin without a fire marshal. And there is no plan to have one again anytime soon.

This was the City Council’s doing when the five approved the budget last fall that came with reorganization plans in the department. The reorg eliminated the three battalion chief positions, one of whom doubled as fire marshal.

When Lake Tahoe News asked the city to provide a job description of the fire marshal position, the response was, “We’ve never had a fire marshal job description.”

The next time there is a fire in South Lake Tahoe, neither Ray Zachau, right, nor any staff fire marshal will be available for Chief Brian Uhler to call. Photo/LTN file

Even though Ray Zachau has not been fire marshal since the end of 2011, his photo and job are still on the city’s website. (Though it’s possible the city will take it down when people read this.) No one has the job. That page says the fire marshal’s job includes:

• Engine Company Occupancy Inspection Program

• Fire Investigation / Team Leader

• New Construction Inspections

• Occupancy Inspections

• Ordinance Development

• Permitting

• Plan Review

• Revenue Development

• School Curriculum

• State Inspections

• Wildland Fuel Reduction.

“We do not have an officially designated fire marshal,” Fire Chief Brian Uhler said. “There are lower levels of certification that allow people to do business inspections and planned inspections. It doesn’t require a full-blown fire marshal to do those inspections.”

Uhler contends the residents of South Lake Tahoe are safe, that necessary inspections can be done by people in the department who have specific certifications that are recognized by the state, that others will be trained and that negotiations are under way with Lake Valley Fire Protection District to handle the majority of South Tahoe’s fire marshal needs.

Even though the elimination of the fire marshal position has been talked about for months and was known for months after the council voted to do so, a memorandum of understanding has yet to be drawn up between the two agencies.

Once the powers that be work out the language and terms, it will need to be approved by the South Lake Tahoe City Council and the Lake Valley board of directors.

Investigating fires is a large component of a fire marshal’s job – something these lower level certifications don’t empower an ordinary firefighter to do. This is why the MOU between the departments is necessary.

Lake Valley Fire Chief Gareth Harris is that department’s former fire marshal. John Poell, who has been in the fire business for 20 years, is now Lake Valley’s fire marshal.

“It’s occurring frequently in our business, the consolidation of services,” Harris told Lake Tahoe News. “The bottom line is we are all in this together to ensure the safety of our community.”

Harris and Uhler are confident an agreement for Lake Valley to provide fire marshal services at a yet-to-be released level for a yet to be released price will be in place in the coming months.

“There is nothing that says a department has to have a fire marshal,” Daniel Berlant told Lake Tahoe News. He works for CalFire – the state fire department that has some jurisdiction over local agencies. “The law says the fire chief will enforce fire and life safety codes. Then the fire chief can appoint a fire marshal or battalion chief to carry out those duties.”

Berlant would not comment on the specifics of South Lake Tahoe Fire Department having one person who has the title of fire chief and police chief (Uhler has no fire experience), a department with no battalion chiefs, and a department with no fire marshal.

Uhler is working with City Manager Tony O’Rourke on how best to structure the department. Uhler has also been getting input from the firefighters’ union.

Uhler told Lake Tahoe News, “I received a letter (last week) from the association that there is a willingness to hire firefighters rather than a higher level administrative position. Maybe we will have two firefighters instead of an administrator to fill in the shifts that are short now. That negotiation process is under way.”












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Comments (17)
  1. Another X Local says - Posted: January 30, 2012

    Is the City kidding? Do they think they can really openly LIE about there never having been a Fire Marshal or a job description? How do I know this? I worked with past Fire Marshals at the City of South Lake Tahoe & they had a few while I was there. I handled all the administrative paperwork involved with the State mandated annual inspections for schools, day care facilities, the hospital, etc. from scheduling/assiging inspections to engine companies to working up the complaints for unresolved code violations for the Fire Marshal to pursue with the City Attorney. I’m sure there are a few businesses who are glad for the demise of the inspection program but the City is NOT safer because of it. Maybe it’s time for the City to abolish what’s left of it’s joke of a fire department & turn it all over to Cal Fire as the current “Fire Chief” has no clue about anything related to the fire service or what is involved in that branch of public safety.

  2. X LOCAL says - Posted: January 30, 2012

    Good Job Tony O’Rourke, once again you have shown your stupidity, you have eliminated the three battalion chief positions, and are now trying to figure out what to do! For a City Mgr. you sure have a lot to learn.
    The council is no better, they allowed you to do it and they will all pay for there deeds when election time comes, OUT WITH THE OLD AND LETS GET A COUNCIL THAT WORKS FOR THE COMMUNITY,
    You didn’t even have a plan, just fire anyone who opposes you and take care of it later.
    You now have an approval rating with City staff of 2%, the other 98% can’t stand you.
    Gather your junk and go back the VAIL,
    you have screwed up this town enough.

  3. lou pierini says - Posted: January 30, 2012

    Why shouldwe fill a position that pays, with bennies, over $200,000.00, and a lot of that is not taxable, so the total comp. would be higher. How many more fires would a fire marshall put out? Lets get back to the basics with a lot less cost.

  4. fromform says - Posted: January 30, 2012

    x local you afraid of losing your too fat and unsustainable (to us locals) benefit package?

  5. Joe Stirumup says - Posted: January 30, 2012

    200,000 a year – tax payers are being ….. (fill in the blank)

    Another example of how your government has betrayed it’s citizens.

  6. X LOCAL says - Posted: January 30, 2012


    I have already lost, Just trying to point out the fact that you are being ripped off by your City Mgr. But then again, you are part of the problem, keep up the good work and you will have no City, Re-elect your Council, let them ruin a once great place to live, Happy Trails.

  7. MtGal says - Posted: January 30, 2012

    The $200,000 per year job is the CM’s.

  8. fromform says - Posted: January 30, 2012

    i believe the solution is to dissolve the city of slt, effectively removing precipitate such as x local from the equation…

  9. sunriser2 says - Posted: January 30, 2012

    So how many more decades will it take before they’re done with code enforcement?

    Think they might keep updating the codes to keep their jobs?

    Are these the same people who rammed resedential fire sprinklers down our throats?

  10. John says - Posted: January 30, 2012

    Sunriser, are you suggesting that the development of new construction techniques should stop? Or, are you suggesting that building construction today is the same as 50 years ago? I am trying to piece together your point here.

  11. sunriser2 says - Posted: January 30, 2012

    Not much new construction going on right now. I was talking about the continued reinspections of the existing buildings.

    I work on the NV side and they seem to come by at least twice a year.

    Live on the CA side and resent the new sprinkler law. Wouldn’t be surprised if there is connection between back flow check companies and retired gov workers.

  12. Another X Local says - Posted: January 30, 2012

    Sunriser2, code inspections are mandated by the State in accordance with the frequency specified by the Code, not the local jurisdiction. If you work in fire prevention on the NV side you would know this. Building/plumbing/fire/electrical codes are developed at the national level & adopted by the State & not the local jursidiction – the locals are required to enforce them. Fire code inspections involve much more than simply bulding construction.

    Joe Stirumup – Yes, the City, Tony O’Rourke & his henchmen have betrayed the City & put it in danger. As for what is left of the fire department, it’s been the laughingstock of the Basin for years thanks to the recent City Managers & City Council.

    I guess if another fire like Angora occurs & wipes out most of the City, O’Rourke will just call it “redevelopment” or “urban renewal”.

  13. Mark Allen says - Posted: January 31, 2012

    Wow! I’m surprised at how ignorant some people are to what is law and required of the departments to enforce, thinking it is just a way for the fire department to harass people. Some seemed to be so inflamed as to what someone makes in retirement that he/she fails to see the big picture and is blinded by their hatred of what someone else has and they don’t. Jealousy rears its ugly head.

  14. sunriser2 says - Posted: January 31, 2012

    Like their unions and trade associations don’t lobby for the code changes.

  15. Krista Eissinger says - Posted: February 2, 2012

    Wonder if those that own homes will see an increase in home insurance with less folks being able to cover the area. My opinion is that $200k is cheap insurance for something that you hope will never happen. Fire personnel (with formal training) are worth every penny they make, and the benefits too. They don’t go to work at 8 am and leave at 5, a majority are there for 3 days + at a time. Those folks do jobs the average whiner wouldn’t, or most likely, couldn’t do physically and perhaps mentally. Same goes for police personnel. They willingly go in to work ready to face the worst case scenario the second they hit the door and all that seems to matter to some people is what their rate of pay is. Honestly.