The office is part of the Texas Department of Insurance based in Austin, but Steelman will reside in Gilmer as he serves the East Texas area. The State Fire Marshal’s Office was created in 1910.
During his 37 years of service, Steelman has fought fires with his cousin, Alton Steelman; Alton’s son, J.P. Steelman, who now heads the Longview Fire Department; and his son, Clint, who is triple certified just as his father is as a firefighter, a paramedic and a peace officer. His other son, Clay, is in law enforcement.
After graduation from high school, Steelman worked for the Longview Fire Department from 1978 to 1998.
Currently, he is the Upshur County Fire Marshall.
“My first obligation is to my family,” said Steelman when asked whether the pension plan and other salary changes affected his decision. “I set out to explore this possibility” after those changes were made.
“Today we work a fire from the least damage to the most damage in an area,” Steelman explained, as he discussed the photos he makes of a fire.
First. he circles the building. Next, he photographs each side of every room.
“When I look at the images, I will see things I had not noticed when I first looked over the fire.”
The exoneration and pardon of Cameron Todd Willingham in 2011 has had a major impact on the way a Fire Marshal investigates a scene. Willingham had been executed for the arson that led to the death of his three daughters.
“Today we can no longer guess the cause of a fire, but we must prove what happened,” he explained.
In a trial, he will be asked if he made any changes in photographs, even lightening them up. As a result, he shoots on Auto and works with what he gets.
Training Fire Marshals in the current scientific approaches will be part of the job description for Steelman. He will also investigate fires, mostly in East Texas, which will allow him to remain in his current home, but in the case of a massive investigation such as is occurring currently in West, Texas, he may travel.
One of the fires which taught Steelman new lessons was the Diana wildfire in September, 2011.
“The conditions were so dry that the fires were burning to the root systems,” he explained. “That was why we could leave an area thinking the fire was out, and it would reignite ten yards away.”
A benefit from the grants received after 9-11 was the radio systems the departments had where even visiting firefighters could tune into the same frequencies and communicate with other departments.
“Traditionally the fire service is slow to change,” Steelman said, “but most of the change (the fire departments are making currently) is good. Better training is never a bad thing.”
One aspect of the Diana Wildfire Steelman is most proud of is the lack of major injury or life to any of the many firefighters who came to work that fire over the 2- week period. To Steelman, that protection of life is evidence of good training.