Hinesville’s Fire Marshal Maurice “Moe” McDuffie Sr. said it’s wise to be prepared when opportunity knocks, because you may not get a second chance.
“You can’t make opportunity happen, but you can prepare for it,” said McDuffie, who a year ago, became Hinesville’s first black fire marshal. “To get the life you want, you have to prepare first. That’s the way my parents raised us.”
McDuffie was born on Long Island, N.Y., the son of a retired Army lieutenant colonel. One of his older brothers recently retired from the Army as a command sergeant major.
McDuffie wanted to be a fireman. He was working as a volunteer firefighter on Long Island in July 2001 when he was hired as a full-time firefighter in Hinesville. Two months later, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks took the lives of his former co-workers.
“When it happened, I wished I was still up there,” McDuffie said. “My assistant (fire) chief was killed that day. I volunteered to go up there, but nobody from here got to go. They had more volunteers than they needed up there.”
Once he was in a full-time firefighter’s position, McDuffie said he prepared himself for the next higher position through personal and professional training.
He said that in addition to firefighter training, he’s completed fire-inspector training, an 80-hour course that includes classes on how to read codes and fire plans. He also completed hazardous-material training. McDuffie is state-certified as a fire inspector and arson investigator.
McDuffie said firefighters constantly are training in the classroom or in the field. Additionally, he’s working on an associate’s degree in fire-science technology through an online program provided by Albany Technical College. He plans to continue his personal development by pursuing a bachelor’s in fire-service administration.
The same year he started as a Hinesville firefighter, McDuffie was voted firefighter of the year. He also received a mentoring award from Button Gwinnett Elementary School. In 2007, he was promoted to fire engineer.
McDuffie said the fire engineer drives the truck to the scene of fires. The engineer controls the truck and the water flow, making sure the firefighters headed into a burning building are protected by water.
In 2010, McDuffie was promoted to assistant fire marshal. He said the fire marshal has the authority to enforce fire-safety codes, many of which are based on the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Georgia legislation supporting the same act. He explained that certain doorways, for example, not only have to be wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, but also have to open outward.
His office also makes sure the gauge on fire extinguishers read “full” and that the pull-pin is present with break-away tape holding it in place, the nozzle shows no sign of wear and there’s a sticker the shows the last time it was inspected. He said burn permits issued by his office are based on information provided by the Georgia Forestry Commission.
“If the commission says conditions are too dry, we don’t issue burning permits,” he said. “We check every business in Hinesville’s fire extinguishers at least once a year. If we see nine extinguishers in a business with stickers showing they’re current, but one is out of date, we usually give the customer 30 days to comply.”
McDuffie said his February 2013 promotion to fire marshal was not unexpected for members of his family. He said he was the first black firefighter in the New York department, where he served as a volunteer. He said his parents and siblings knew when he set his mind to do something, he’d work to prepare himself for that opportunity.
“You have to prepare yourself to reach your goal,” he said. “I prepared my pathway for engineer then assistant fire marshal then fire marshal ... My career is going where I want it to go. I’d like to work toward being a deputy chief or chief or maybe work as a fire inspector for a large corporation. But I’m leaving all my options open.”