WSU Fire Marshal Rod Holmes. Photo by Aaron Litzinger,
WSU News intern.
PULLMAN – When WSU closed its campus fire station in 2005, it retained Rod Holmes as fire marshal. The reasoning included Holmes’ experience and valuable set of skills.
 
His knowledge of 165 different alarm systems and a career that began in 1972 seemed irreplaceable.
 
His 39 years of safety experience include jobs as an emergency medical technician (EMT), paramedic, dispatcher and deputy fire marshal for the city of Spokane.
 
Tasks many and varied
 
At WSU, Holmes does building inspections, fire plan reviews, special event fire precautions and arson investigations. He also enforces occupancy rules and checks Facilities Operations’ reports on alarm systems. Alarms are fixed or repaired after he reviews the reports.
The status of combustible or hazardous materials in storage is his responsibility. Those materials cannot be under a stairway nor can there be too much of one type of material in one place. Too many chemicals mixed together could be deadly or cause an explosion if they are not compatible.
 
His work includes such tasks as checking all 1,100 labs on the WSU Pullman campus to ensure fire safety precautions are up to standard.
 
Challenge to help people understand
 
Of course, not everyone is immediately overjoyed to see him in their lab or office. Some people act nervous or scared when he shows up because he “is the person who has to say ‘No.’ “
“The hardest part of the job is how upset people get when they have to adhere to my minimum fire safety requirements,” Holmes said. “People do not like to be told they cannot put something somewhere or can’t have certain structures built.”
 
In his eight years at WSU, he said, the most pressing issue has been adhering to maximum occupancy loads for rooms and events.
 
“People need to know where the exits are and have planned escape routes,” he said. “Most people don’t ever check to see where the exits are when they enter a venue.”
Less is more
 
Despite the challenges, Holmes thrives on the opportunity to serve. The desire to help people in his career has grown, along with a liking for the rigorous preparation.
“The job was different than any other job I’d had,” Holmes said. “Intense training and camaraderie were very important to the job, which I liked.

“In my line of work, less is more. The fewer injuries and deaths from fires, the more I am having an impact.”