ICC members: Shaping the safety of the world around us — Scott Ensminger
Code professionals ensure building safety today, for a stronger tomorrow. As the individuals behind modern codes and standards, these professionals are responsible for ensuring the safety and compliance of codes and standards, shaping the safety of the world around us, and serve as the safety foundation for our buildings. They don’t just ensure that buildings are constructed to withstand the stress of everyday use, they are behind the security and stability of every building. They specialize in preventative measures to help communities weather unforeseen natural disasters and ensure that first responders have less to worry about and can do their jobs safely. Code professionals are an essential piece in the building and construction puzzle and are engaged in the building process from the initial building plan to the finished product.
The International Code Council is a member-focused association with over 64,000 members dedicated to developing model codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process to construct safe, sustainable, affordable and resilient structures. They protect the public through their commitment to building safety; enforce code compliance to empower and educate stakeholders across the built environment to embrace and integrate safety standards in their work; support economic development by making our buildings sturdier, and therefore longer lasting. Their knowledge, skills, and abilities impact every building, in every community.
The Code Council recognizes the importance of continuing to grow awareness of the important work that code professionals do and the impact they have, in the hopes of encouraging aspiring building safety professionals to join in on the building safety movement. In this exclusive feature for the Building Safety Journal, we asked Scott Ensminger to share his experience in the industry, highlights of his professional career, and any insights or advice he has concerning the industry and the future of building safety.
Deputy State Fire Marshal
South Carolina Office of State Fire Marshal
Columbia, South Carolina, United States
International Code Council member for five years
BSJ: What was the path to your career — how and why did you pursue a profession in building safety?
Ensminger: I started my career in the fire service as a volunteer firefighter in my local county. Shortly after becoming a volunteer, I was hired by a local city municipality as a career firefighter and emergency medical technician. Firefighter education teaches you basic level building construction as well as building life safety systems. During emergency calls, I was faced with challenges pertaining to all of the above as well as hazardous materials. These experiences brought to light a need for educating business owners, occupants and homeowners about fire and life safety issues that, if addressed and mitigated, could lead to enhanced safety for everyone, including responding firefighters. In the process of learning how and why things went wrong leading to emergencies and seeing things during the response to an emergency that could have gone smoother, I was made aware of existing building and fire codes that were in place to mitigate these things before they became a problem. I quickly realized that if I didn’t know about or understand these codes as a firefighter, how could I expect the general public to understand and comply. My first step was to begin to educate myself so I could help others understand the importance of these codes and why they were important. I took my first ICC course and certification four years ago and that opened up an opportunity to apply to the State Fire Marshal’s Office to be a Deputy State Fire Marshal.
BSJ: What three things do you need to be successful in this industry and in your profession?
Ensminger: Learning: If you are thinking about pursuing a role in the building and fire life safety industry, you absolutely need to have a willingness to learn and pursue continuing education. The codes are constantly changing and adapting to the world around us, therefore it is imperative that we seek training and education in order to keep up with these changes.
Teaching: Building and fire life safety professionals must realize that they are not just out there to enforce the code, they are there to educate. The goal of everyone in the field should be life safety through compliance and the best way to achieve compliance is through education. If someone understands why the codes exist and what can go wrong if they are not followed, they may be more inclined to comply with those codes. I realized that I only get to see the facilities I inspect once a year, however, the people living and working in these structures are there all year long. If they understand why these things are important they are more likely to fix issues as they arise.
Helping: Building and fire life safety professionals must be passionate about being there to help out the citizens and first responders in the areas in which they serve. I am here to be a resource to the people and local agencies I serve. I am not out to try to “catch” them doing things wrong, I am here to point out why something is not safe and to be a resource to them in order to help them achieve compliance and become safer.
BSJ: What role have mentors, advisors or your network played in your career?
Ensminger: I have great admiration for my fire service extended family and to everyone that helped me along the way. I would not be in the position I am today if not for them. After making the decision to join the fire marshal’s office, I very quickly became aware of just how much I didn’t know! I am, to this day, still in awe of the level of knowledge that exists in our office and how much knowledge I gain from watching them perform their duties. I learn something new every day.
BSJ: What led you to become an ICC member?
Ensminger: I decided to become a member of the ICC because South Carolina has adopted the ICC codes. I realized the importance a certification would be to advancing my career and opening up opportunities down the road.
BSJ: Are you involved in any ICC committees or councils? Do you have any ICC certifications?
Ensminger: I currently hold a certification as an ICC Fire Inspector I and I am actively pursuing the ICC Certified Fire Marshal Certification. I am not currently on any committees or councils, I would love to be more involved, however, I am very aware that I am still new to the code world and for now I will leave those roles to those with more experience and knowledge.
BSJ: How long have you been in the industry?
Ensminger: 10 years
BSJ: What major changes have you seen?
Ensminger: COVID-19 has impacted the industry in ways that, I think, were overdue for change. Social distancing has opened up an entirely new avenue for virtual education opportunities. This has allowed collaboration between experts in the field with folks in the industry that may not have otherwise had a chance to attend the training.
BSJ: What excites you about the future of your industry?
Ensminger: Technology is changing at a rapid pace and the industry will have a chance to implement these new technologies to help improve building safety. I am excited to see the industry grow and adapt to these changes through the improved network of education and technology which is opening up the world to this knowledge for a safer future.
BSJ: What is one piece of advice that you would give to those starting out in the industry?
Ensminger: The code world can be intimidating at first, find an area you are passionate about and reach out to experts in that field to learn from them. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! No one knows it all, but as a team, we can get close to that goal.
BSJ: What do you see as most surprising about the work that you do?
Ensminger: I look back at my life prior to joining the fire service and realize how “Blissfully Unaware” I was of the building, fire and life-safety industry. I took for granted that buildings I went into were safe and assumed everyone just “magically” kept them that way. I had no idea of the time, effort and knowledge that goes into keeping the public safe and allowing them to be “Blissfully Unaware.”
BSJ: What would you like to do next in your professional/personal life?
Ensminger: I am preparing to take my ICC Certified Fire Marshal’s Certification series as well as preparing to take the IAAI Certified Fire Investigator exam.
BSJ: What do you enjoy doing in your leisure time?
Ensminger: I enjoy spending time with my two sons and my wife. We have two great Danes and two tropical parrots and we enjoy traveling in the RV. When I have time I enjoy reading and learning to make myself a better deputy state fire marshal.
If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title would be?
Ensminger: Blissfully Unaware — A Path to Enlightenment.
There’s a world of opportunity in being a member of the International Code Council. Membership provides the tools to get the most out of each workday: from discounts on essential International Codes and other publications to the best prices on top-quality training and ICC certification renewals, Code Council membership helps budgets go further. Exclusive member benefits include code advice from expert technical staff as well as access to member-exclusive news and articles at the Building Safety Journal news portal. Plus, only Code Council members vote in the ICC code development process. An online Career Center allows job postings and searches for new job opportunities — all at no additional charge.
The Code Council offers numerous councils, committees, and resources to help code professionals grow and network with colleagues. Six discipline-specific Membership Councils offer members a place to come together and be a more powerful force in shaping your association, your industry, your career, and your future. Code Development Committees are an instrumental part of the ICC code development process and are responsible for the review and evaluation of code change proposals submitted to the International Codes. Professional Development Committees serve to better align the ICC education programs and certification programs to ensure that quality training is available to meet the needs of all members, customers and certification holders. Finally, the Value of the Code Official toolkit helps members to heighten awareness of the importance of code officials to their communities and to highlight the code official’s role as a helpful advocate for community safety, health and welfare, and economic development.