Robert J. Grimadi joined the West Hartford Fire Department as Deputy Fire Marshal in October.
By Ronni Newton
The West Hartford Fire Department has welcomed Bob Grimaldi, a longtime veteran of the Bristol Fire Department, to the recently created role of deputy fire marshal.
Assistant Chief Mike Sinsigalli is West Hartford’s fire marshal, and as deputy Grimaldi’s role will be to assist with responsibilities of plan review, inspections, and investigations.
“Bob comes highly experienced from his career in Bristol,” West Hartford Chief Greg Priest said. “His track record was exemplary.”
Grimaldi, who was born and raised in Bristol, where he still lives, was a member of the Bristol Fire Department for more than 28 years. He started as a firefighter, and progressed to lieutenant and then captain, and then ran the Fire Marshal Division for about six years before retiring this fall. He reported directly to the chief, and had three inspectors working under him.
Investigation is a key responsibility of a fire marshal, and probably the one the public hears about most often.
During his tenure in Bristol, Grimaldi said he investigated more than 200 fires – vehicle as well as structure fires. Any fire that seems to have included “human interaction” is subject to investigation, he said, as well as those that result in monetary or property loss, or injury.
“The goal is to prevent it from happening again,” said Grimaldi.
Investigations of fires are required by statute, said Priest. In an investigation, “we rule out all other sources of ignition,” he said, but if that can’t be done, the cause remains “undetermined.”
Nationally, the top three causes of fires are kitchen/cooking, electrical, and heating related.
When there is the suspicion that an “incendiary” is involved, Priest said, the investigation is taken to a new level and the police get involved. In West Hartford, the relationship with the police is “very collaborative,” he said.
Sometimes the state’s Fire Investigation Explosion Unit (FIEU) also gets involved in an investigation, and Grimaldi’s role will include having direct contact with that unit and the state fire marshal’s office.
Grimaldi’s role will also involve inspections needed for licensing – which are required by state statute at varied intervals for residential occupancies (other than single-family and two-family homes), apartments, restaurants, schools, daycares, and other businesses.
“We’re looking for life-safety features,” he said, in order to prevent fires.
“We look to achieve compliance through education and cooperation,” said Priest, with safety as the goal. “We’re going to hold people to the law, but we’re always looking for how we can work with the property owners.”
“We want to be aggressive but not punitive,” added Grimaldi. “We want to be kind.”
The third key role of a fire marshal is plan review. Depending on the project, architects, engineers, and contractors have varying degrees of expertise in ensuring building plans comply with fire codes, and while the fire marshal doesn’t design compliance plans, they check for it.
While the department has people on staff – who are not firefighters – who are involved in inspections, Priest said, they aren’t authorized to do plan review without supervision.
It’s such a major portion of the job and part of the reason the fire marshal’s office will soon be moving from the department headquarters on Raymond Road into space in Town Hall across from the Engineering Department. The new location will create a better customer service experience for getting approval from the fire marshal as part of the process of applying for building permits, Priest said.
“I’m glad to be here,” Grimaldi said.
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