Reporter's Notebook

30 Minutes On Fire Safety 

Mitchell Kannry, SPA/BA ’05, fire marshal for the DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, answers our burning questions on his 18-year career and developing fire plans


Mitchell Kannry

Have you checked your smoke detectors? Given your space heaters at least 3 feet of clearance? Settled on a meeting point with your family in the event of a fire?

As DC’s fire marshal, Mitchell Kannry, SPA/BA ’05, is in charge of the office asking these questions as part of its public education efforts. His portfolio also includes fire investigations, fire inspections, code changes, and policy. Kannry’s post is the latest and highest in a wide-ranging, 18-year career with DC’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.

“We are always trying to beat the drum of fire safety,” Kannry says of his office. “We’re always trying to get the message out, and it’s really nothing earth-shattering.” Basic or not, they’re critical details. Per FEMA, Americans average $2 billion in property damage and 890 deaths each year from winter home fires.

In September, Kannry joined 30 Minutes On to provide a few helpful tips as well as discuss a DC fire service career that began when he was an AU junior.

Listen to the podcast, or read the full transcript below:   

Full Transcript

Andrew Erickson: Hello and welcome to 30 Minutes On, a podcast from American University magazine. I’m American magazine staff writer Andrew Erickson.

Today, in our winter episode, we’re spending 30 minutes on fire safety.

You probably already know this, but in the winter months, when we crank up the heat, doing anything we can to keep our homes nice and toasty, we’re also cranking up the danger.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, about half of home heating fires occur in December, January, and February. And from 2014 to 2018, there was an average of 48,530 home fires in the United States involving heating equipment, from furnaces to space heaters.

Mitchell Kannry, a 2005 graduate of the School of Public Affairs, is constantly “beating the drum of fire safety,” he says. It’s his job. Well, that, fire investigations, fire inspections, code changes, and policy. Since late 2020, he’s been the DC fire marshal, the latest and highest position in a DC Fire career that began 18 years ago, while he was still an undergraduate student at AU.

In September, Kannry joined 30 Minutes On… to discuss his career with the DC fire department from firehouses to fire inspection, his last couple years as DC’s fire marshal, and how you and your family can make a fire plan this winter.

Here’s our interview with Mitchell.

AE: So, Mitchell, thank you again for taking the time to join us. We really appreciate getting a chance to chat with you again. So I guess just to get started, I know a fire marshal oversees a mix of investigation, code enforcement, and inspections, but in a given week, what does that typically mean for you and your team? And what does that mean in terms of what you oversee on a daily basis?

Mitchell Kannry: In the DC Fire Department, my office oversees fire inspections, fire investigations, and the public education team. Also, since DC is kind of a unique place, I also act as more of a state fire marshal as well. [It’s] overseeing code changes, a lot of policy and a lot of stuff that would happen at the state level, we do at the District level. We have a team that goes out. Our inspectors are broken down into both geographical and technical: geographical handle all different parts of the city, and our technical team handles everything from hazmat to fireworks to anything that might be out of the ordinary. Our fire investigators go out to every fire that occurred in the city, work to determine the origin of cause. We work on a taskforce with the ATF and MPD to investigate major incidents, and then we also have our PEBD team, which does public education, outreach, fire safety visits, all the stuff that gets wrapped up for that. So there’s a lot that’s going on in our office every day, and every day is just kind of balancing those needs and trying to make sure we try to address what’s going on in the city.

AE: And I know that you had previously worked as a battalion chief and as a fire investigator earlier in your career, but what kind of an adjustment was this, adapting to the myriad things you just listed?

MK: Yeah, I’ve held a lot of different roles and ranks in the department. A lot of my career was spent on a shift work schedule, which is a 24 on, 72 hours off. The position I’m in now is a day work schedule, so that’s a big adjustment right there to begin with. But at the rank that I’m at, most of the roles are administrative level like that, so kind of to be expected. The adjustment with home and family life and coming to work every day was something that was new and then just dealing with more of a policy, more administrative role as opposed to more of an operational role, that was a big change too. But it’s been almost two years now, so I think I’ve fully adjusted.

AE: Yeah, absolutely. And what have been some of the most important things you’ve learned in adjusting to that administrative aspect about fire safety, leadership, public engagement that maybe you touched on previously in some of your roles, but are a little bit newer in this one?

MK: It’s the amount of impact that we can have. So as a line officer or as a battalion chief, you’re impacting a much smaller area, whether that's a specific part of the city or a geographical area. But really being able to work with all different aspects of the city, working on everything from safety in a restaurant to home fire safety—everything that we do has an impact across all different types of occupancies, all different populations, all different geographical areas. Just seeing how wide that can be and trying to make the most impact to the people that need it the most is the thing that’s been the most important.

AE: I remember when I spoke with you last, I think it was late summer 2020 for a story about sleep, but I remember you saying during that interview that you started with the DC Fire Department while you were still a student at AU. I’m curious what sparked that interest for you, if you had family that were firefighters previously or if this was something that kind of was uniquely yours.

MK: Yeah, so I did not have any family in the fire service or emergency services. I know a lot of people do. I came to DC to go to AU as undergrad, and I had been a volunteer in New Jersey where I grew up doing EMS work and fire work. I was kind of used to that environment. It was something I enjoyed doing. When I came down to the area, I looked for other volunteer opportunities and had to go out to Prince George’s County because there’s no volunteers in DC. I did a lot of time out there and really enjoyed it. And I volunteered with a lot of members who were DC firefighters. And then at the time, the application process, the testing process, every five or six years at that point. So I was very fortunate to be able to hit it at the right time and went through that process at the recommendation of a lot of people. I did fairly well and ended up in the hiring process and got hired and started the academy between my junior and senior year of undergrad.

AE: Going back to when you were starting to volunteer a little bit in New Jersey, do you remember what it was that attracted you to that line of work or wanting to explore that in some way?

MK: Yeah, so at the time of my town, it was a small town, they had a program where kids that were volunteering could leave school during the day if there was an emergency call that came out. I would be in classes and see people get up and leave class and be gone and doing all this cool stuff while I was sitting in whatever class being bored. So that seemed like a pretty good time to me and something that was good to learn. So that was kind of what initially attracted me to it. And then I started getting more involved in learning different aspects of the field and really started doing it.

AE: Can you walk me through what it was like during your training schedule with DC, when you’re trying to finish up your undergrad degree at the same time? How were you able to balance those two things, how did you made that work, and how relieved were you, I guess, when it was done?

MK: Yeah, that was definitely a challenging time. Time management I learned from then on was something that was going to be super important. I actually was notified that was going to be hired at the end of my junior year, and they were trying to put me in a class that started in I think it was April, and it was before finals, and I wouldn’t have been able to complete that semester. I was able to defer the academy class to start in June. I started on June 14, so that was middle of summer break.

So the academy ran a normal schedule, normal-ish, from seven in the morning till three or four in the afternoon. So I structured my schedule for fall semester, senior year to do block classes at night. I essentially would go to the academy during the day, do all that stuff, come home, shower, and then go to my classes at night. The academy ended around October, which was great, because then I focused on school, but then I was on shift work. Fortunately, a lot of my professors were very sympathetic to my cause, and I tried to keep them in the loop. And fortunately, the shift schedule for us is set a year in advance. We know when we’re working very far ahead of time. So I was able to tell them, ‘Hey, these are the classes I will miss. Can I do something to make up work or anything else?’ And there was really only one class where the professor was like, ‘No, this isn’t going to work.’ And I actually took a different class. And then I realized after the fact that the class I missed out on was kind of a joke, I could have definitely missed the class that I hadn’t missed and it wouldn’t be a problem. But that was one time. But all the other professors were great. I was able to manage around my shift schedule. There were several times—once you graduate from the fire academy, you’re a probationary firefighter for a period of time where you have to take tests, do practical skills when you’re out in the firehouses. I would literally be studying my probationary studies during the day. At night, we do what’s called watch, where you’re up for a certain period of time to make sure you answer the phones and deal with any calls that come in.  When I was on watch, I would be studying for final exams or writing papers or taking care of my school stuff at night and the firehouse stuff during the day. There’s definitely a balancing act. But fortunately I made it through. I graduated on time, which my parents are very happy about, and it seems to have worked out.

AE: Do you remember your first non-probationary assignment, what that was like, what kind of the emotions were of kind of reaching that point and what you carried into that assignment?

MK: Yeah, so when we got our assignments right, that’s through a probationary period and then once you finish probation, that’s kind of where you’re at. So I was assigned to 19 Engine, which is on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast DC. It was in an area of the city that I didn’t know much about.

AU is located in upper Northwest. I was familiar with downtown, but really the other parts of the city I didn't know that much about. So it was really a great opportunity to see other areas, different cultures, different ways of life, everything that’s going on that I really didn’t have any background on. And I think it really helped me grow my career and my professional life, just seeing how the different parts of the city interact with each other, what different priorities are in different communities, and really just trying to work best to interact with and to really learn the most about the people that we serve throughout the city. And it really was pretty beneficial.

AE: And I know there’s that probationary period, as you mentioned, but how much of those initial stages, years, I don’t know what period of time, is just learning on the fly. And what would you say is the most difficult part of just getting used to responding to calls, to the routine, to any aspect of taking on this job?

MK: There’s a saying that firefighting is kind of always learning, right? I learn stuff every day now. I’m still learning every day. So just because the probation process might end, that learning process doesn’t stop. There’s always different skills you have to pick up on. You get more advanced.

You have to learn different parts of the city. When you go to different assignments, you have to learn what’s unique about that firehouse, about that community. So the learning really never stops, but really just trying to get on the same page as everybody. I was coming from a volunteer organization into a professional organization. There’s a lot more rules and standards you need to follow, making sure that you're performing the way that you need to. DC’s got a lot of history. The fire department is very well known as being very aggressive and very advanced and being very effective. So, learning the different techniques that go along with that, there’s always little tips and tips and tricks of the trade that you pick up on from working with different people and just learning how to do things a little bit differently, or learning how where you can speed up in certain areas or anything like that. That’s really the nuances of the job is really once you get the basics down, learning how to do those little unique things that really make you more effective and so you can serve the community better is always something that's going on.

AE: Physically, with taking on that initially, are you running, are you lifting weights? How do you get prepared for the physical component and how have you been able to stay prepared with that over the course of your career?

MK: Yeah, so when you’re doing the entrance exam now, there’s a process called the CPAT, which is a nationally certified physical ability testing. It’s pretty much a national standard for entrance for firefighters, and that’s fairly well documented what you can do. There’s a stair climb. There’s an obstacle course, there’s time components to that. When I got hired, it was more of a DC specific obstacle course, so it was a little bit less known about what we had to do. I practiced by doing a lot of cardio, doing a lot of running, stairs, doing some weightlifting, that kind of stuff. I’m kind of naturally a smaller person, so some of the heavier exercises [I worked on], and I’m also kind of short. Stuff where we had to reach out pretty high was challenging for me, but I was able to get through all that. But really, cardio and endurance stuff has been the most helpful. When you’re putting on the gear or you’re going to fire or training or anything, it takes a big toll on your body. The extra weight from all that stuff, the heat definitely takes a lot out of you too. Having that cardio, having that endurance has been really helpful even to this day.

AE: And when you first started, did you have your sights set on any sort of specialization? Did you want to become an investigator down the road? Did you see a management role like the one you’re in now as something you aspired to? Or did that just come over time and kind of learning more about the department?

MK: I think it really came over time. When I got hired, when I became a firefighter, I wanted to advance when I could. So in DC, you can’t start testing for an officer position until you’ve got five years on the job. I was also a justice major at AU, so I was very interested in law enforcement and the legal system. So when the opportunity came up to be a fire investigator, that was something that I was really interested in because it kind of took my interest in the legal system and law enforcement and combined it with the fire service. And it was really kind of a perfect fit at the time. So when that came up, I really hopped on the opportunity, start learning about it, became really interested in the background of it and the complexities of it, and then got a position as a fire investigator, which was a really great experience. And then just kind of seeing what the other opportunities are, different officer ranks, from working with different people, you learn how officers can affect the firehouse and the ship and how those can be positive or negative influences. And from learning and dealing with different personalities, just kind of seeing myself, how I thought I could handle some of those situations and how I wanted to be in those leadership roles.

AE: And what was the learning curve like going into a fire investigator role? How long did it take before you felt really comfortable with, ‘I can walk into postfire and kind of get a better sense of what’s going on?’

MK: Yeah. So we’re fortunate in DC. Fortunate or unfortunate, I guess, depending on how you look at it, where we run a decent amount of fires. So there’s a lot of opportunity there to learn and to get hands on and to see different things. Some areas of the country might run a handful of incidents a year. We’re running a handful of times a week or a day sometimes. There’s a lot more opportunity in the DC area to get that experience early on. Obviously the training is pretty intense to begin with and it covers a lot of fire science and different investigative techniques and everything else. Learning that stuff was a lot to take on. But then when you really are able to apply that to walk into a fire scene and to get hands on and really see how that stuff interacts, it all starts to make sense a lot more. And then so seeing that over and over again, you can realize different patterns and different things to look for, you can get comfortable quicker, I think. Doing that kind of job where you’re busier as opposed to somewhere where you don’t have that opportunity to apply those skills all the time. Going through that frequency of instance that we have here really helped to get myself comfortable somewhat early on, to really be confident in my decision making, to really see how these things work out and really help to make me a stronger investigator as time went on.

AE: And you’ve been in the department for, what, 18 years now?

MK: Yeah, 18 years.

AE: How would you say the profession has changed most from standards to technology to certain practices and how have you been able to adapt to those changes over time?

MK: Yeah, so, I mean, technology has definitely been a huge impact. I remember when I first started, I got hired in 2004, there were still typewriters in the firehouse. They weren’t really used, but they were still there. Right? It’s kind of funny. When I first started, we had these printers that would spit out—when we would get a run, the rip off, the tear off paper on the sheets of the side. I can’t really describe it and that was fairly technologically advanced at the time. I remember when I first started, we had all our forms that we had to fill out. They were all online, they were digital. And I thought that was really advanced for an agency our size. And looking back, it was. So, I mean, I think that DC in some parts, we’ve been kind of at the leading edge on some of that stuff. Some things are still a little slow on, but definitely that transition. So going from those paper tear-offs to now every fire apparatus has a laptop in the front. You can get information a lot faster. You can get updated information from an incident you’re going to instantaneously. You can pull up maps. You can get background information. You can see an overview. There’s a lot of technology and that’s evolving every single day. I think DC has been very good at embracing a lot of that technology and integrating it and kind of what we do, but at the same time still maintaining that tradition. Our apparatus drivers, they still are required to know where they’re going. We don’t rely on GPS. There’s a knowledge of the area that they have to maintain, which makes us unique, but also makes them [respond] that much better because they know the intricacies of neighborhood. The GPS might be wrong, but they know if they take a certain alley it’s going to get them to a certain place. They know what alleys they can access in different areas and different parts of the city. All these things make us better at responding to these emergencies. And then you can use the technology on the backside to see, OK, if we can get to this part, can we get to the next part? And kind of merging those two things together, I think, is what makes us really effective.

AE: And I can imagine you’ve worked with hundreds of different people over the last 18 years, but I would wonder, among those people, what do you find are the most valuable traits? And what have you, I guess, valued most or wanted to model the most in yourself? Is it something like quick instincts, a quick memory, communication? What would you say are some of those things that have stood out to you over the years and you have kind of tried to model yourself after as you build your career?

MK: I’ve definitely worked with a lot of different people, especially working with different officers. There was always this saying that you can learn as much, if not more, from a bad officer than you could from a good officer, because you would see how things that you didn't like about a certain trait, how that affects people. I would always try to pick up on that and kind of see like, ‘OK, this is happening. I want to make sure I’m not like that. I want to make sure I’m not a person that does X.’ And then a lot of things that you talk about being able to make a quick decision. When you’re on a fire ground, when you’re on a medical call, when you’re dealing with an investigation, you need to be able to make a decision and stick with it and do it quickly. Having that quick decision making, I think, is a skill that’s really necessary for a lot of the firefighters that we work with. Having good interpersonal skills and dealing with the community. So much of what we do is interacting with the community. Much of my job now is interacting with the community, making sure you’re listening and being attentive to what the needs are and trying to really understand what the issues are, because sometimes what starts off as the issue is not really what’s going on. It’s trying to get down to the bottom line of what’s happening and how we can positively affect that situation. I think there’s something you can take away from everybody that work with, whether it’s the probationary that’s just starting now, the most junior person in the department to somebody who has been on the job for 30 plus years who’s been to all different parts of the city. There’s always something you can take from different people that you’re working with. And I try to be open to try to see, ‘What’s something new that I might be able to take away or what’s something new that I didn't know before?’

AE: You mentioned at the top of this in the last couple of years having transitioned off shift work. I’m curious what that was like, what you miss most about that and what you miss least about that lifestyle.

MK: Throughout my career, I had been on day work for a few stints here and there, but it seems like now this is the schedule I will be at for the long haul. Right. The shift work schedule is something that I always appreciated, but you don’t fully appreciate it until it’s gone. It’s definitely a taxing on the body sometimes, especially if you’re at a busy company or you have a busy night and you’re up for 24 hours, but then having those three days off to recover, to spend time with family, to take care of things that you wouldn’t necessarily think of. Every weekend now is dedicated to running errands or a grocery store or these things that I would normally plug in on, like a Tuesday or Wednesday when it was quiet, it’s not at a time where rest of the world is doing all these things, you’re kind of plugged in there too. So there is some downside there, but there’s also the plus side where you’re on normal schedule. The weekends when everybody else is off, you’re off and you can spend time doing family [things] or kids’ school events or anything else. Those are times when you’re already naturally around. I can make sure now I don’t miss any of my daughter’s softball games because of shift work. I can make sure that for any performances that they’re doing at school, I’m always there. There’s definitely the benefit there when having smaller kids like I do now, and as they’re growing up, having the ability to be there for all those events that you want to make sure you have without feeling like you have to miss something at work too. That’s been a plus side.

AE: Throughout your career—and most people in their profession aren’t woken up by alarm bells or they’re eating and then something happens, they have to move at the drop of a hat—how do you turn that intensity off after a shift? Is that something that takes time to figure out? What worked for you in trying to address that?

MK: I think being on shift work, it’s almost easier to leave everything at work. When you leave, unless it’s a major catastrophe, you’re not getting called back. As a battalion chief, as an officer, I wasn’t getting calls in the middle of the night about something that’s going on. When I was on duty, I was on duty, and when I was off duty, it was very clear that was it. There might be some emails that come in, but most of the time you could handle it when you get to work. Being in an administrative role now and kind of being in charge of the division I’m in charge of, there’s something always happening. There's emails that come in through the night. There’s phone calls that come in. We have inspectors working all hours, we have investigators working 24 hours. There’s always people doing something in the city, and sometimes that requires me to get involved. It’s harder now to kind of turn off the work side of things because there’s always something that’s going on and there’s always something I kind of need to know about or weigh in on. Fortunately, we work with a ton of great people and they’re great at making decisions, and we try to give them all the autonomy that they have that some things still need to be notified for. So it was almost easier on shift work to be able to turn it off because once you got the firehouse, you were right back to being civilian or whatever you want to call it, and on with your day, whereas now it’s harder to turn things off and there’s always something happening.

AE: Over the course of your career, in the last five years or so, how did fire marshal become a possibility for you and what was your reaction to reaching that rank?

MK: Yeah, it’s good question. Fire marshal I don’t think is anything that I was ever truly striving for. Obviously I had experience in fire investigation, so I knew that some spots were coming up. I knew I was in the running for a promotion to deputy fire chief at the time and I knew when the spots that was coming up as fire prevention because the former fire marshal was retiring. So I really was able to articulate how my experience in the division in the past could really give me some unique insight, which I think was definitely helpful in getting the position. But also you don’t know what you don’t know, right? When I was able to get the position, there’s so much more involved in the position than I ever would have imagined, from doing code changes to dealing with different task forces, to working with different agencies. Until you get in a role like this or almost any of the division heads that we have, you really don’t know the intricacies and how much you have to take on until you’re really in that role, right? So, I was excited about the opportunity. I knew that it was something that I had some background in and I’d be interested in and I like interacting with people and I like trying to be an example and trying to be a leader. I knew that division had a lot of people and had a lot of opportunity there. When I was able to get that position, I was excited to have that opportunity. At the same time, I was instantly kind of taken aback like, ‘OK what do I not know?’ And I very quickly learned there was a lot. So trying that transition period and trying to get a full understanding of everything that’s going on was a big challenge. But I think we're pretty good now.

AE: And is it just a constant busy cycle year-round? Are there certain seasons for code changes and adapting to that that are particularly busy seasons or is that pretty much a constant of something is always pressing?

MK: Definitely something is always happening, right? And something is always pressing. If I have a day where I don’t have a handful of meetings and other things going on, it’s almost like something is wrong, right? Because I’m so used to the constant, the hecticness of it. But it’s also something that I enjoy. I enjoy being busy and I enjoy interacting with everybody. There’s different cycles of things. The wintertime definitely gets busier for fires. Everybody's in the house, people are using different heating sources, things are closed up a little bit more. There’s the potential there for a higher injury or fatality rate. It’s a lot of things that we try to do on the front end to try to make sure we're educating the public about what’s happening. Summertime is a little slower for fires traditionally, but then we have the 4th of July where we're very involved in fireworks and permitting and everything that goes along with that, and then injuries. And so, I mean, there’s different challenges at different times of year, but it’s never something that kind of dies down. It’s always the next thing that’s happening.

AE: You touched on it, but as we get closer to winter and as folks start turning on their heat, what advice, just on a general level, might you offer people on a fire safety standpoint?

MK: Yeah, so we are always trying to beat the drum of fire safety, right? We’re always trying to get the message out, and it’s really nothing earth shattering—a lot of the most basic things and things that we see over and over again. So, first of all, smoke detectors, smoke alarms. We want to make sure everybody has smoke alarms in their house, outside their bedrooms, make sure they work, test them.

If they’re in the District, we can come out and give you a free smoke detector. We can install it. We can do a home fire safety visit. We want to make sure that when you're cooking, you’re not leaving things unattended on the stove, you’re keeping a close eye on things. You're not cooking while you're impaired. You’re not wearing loose clothing that can ignite when you’re in the area. Extension cords, we know, are a big issue. People run extension cords throughout their house. They get caught up under furniture that can then cause an issue. So we want to make sure that you don’t use extension cords in the place of where a permanent wire should be, that you’re keeping eye on them, that they’re in good condition. In the wintertime, we have a lot of space heater issues. We want to make sure you get clearances of space heaters, three to five feet around those, make sure they’re not right up on bedding or clothing or anything else, and making sure those are plugged directly into the wall. They throw a lot of amps and volts and everything, and they can be really dangerous. We know our vulnerable population a lot is the elderly, so we always want to make sure that they’re using all these good fire safety tips, but also they’re interacting with the community that we have. Community members might be able to check on them or make sure they have what they need, make sure the smoke detectors are in good shape. Just all the things that we’re constantly preaching throughout the year, just in the wintertime, it all comes together a little bit more, and that message is even more important.

AE: And what kind of fire safety equipment should somebody have in their house? What’s a reasonable expectation for someone to have? And in terms of a plan for individuals or for families, what should that look like? Can you have a plan? And how do you even begin to do that?

MK: Yeah, so definitely having a plan, right? So first, let’s start at the beginning. So in DC, all new residential buildings have to be sprinklered, which is a huge benefit because we know that sprinkler systems help save lives, give you the time to get out of that building. And that's so critical, right? Having that sprinkler is almost like having a firefighter hanging out in your house. If a small fire happens, that sprinkler goes off, that fire is going to be suppressed. And we know a lot of times that gives people time to get out. It reduces the rate of injury and death and it’s so important. If you live in a newer house or if you're renovating your house, getting those sprinkler systems in there is required by code. But it's so important, and we advocate for that. If you don’t have sprinkler systems, we recommend having a fire extinguisher in the house, usually in the kitchen area, knowing that people know how to use it, but really knowing your limitations too. If it’s a big fire, don’t stand there and try to mess around with it. Getting out, calling 911, making sure everybody’s accounted for. Having a plan is so important. We have a lot of these resources on our website, which is People can go to it and they can download all these fire safety tips, but make a plan. Have a meeting point to go to when you get out of the house, make sure everybody is accounted for, and sometimes making sure that you grab medication or anything else that you might need in case of emergency. But really, if there’s a fire, it’s making sure everybody gets out, making sure everybody’s accounted for, and then making sure that when the firefighters do show up, you can let them know that, ‘Hey, everybody’s out.’ We are still going to search the house. We’re still going to make sure everybody’s OK. But it gives us a little more ability to handle the situation, knowing that there’s nobody trapped, knowing that we don’t need to go in and save somebody right away. All these things are the big fire safety tips. Everything is on our website. I definitely encourage everybody to download that, have a plan, practice it. [You can do] fire drills in your house, they call it exit drills in the home. It’s a big push to really just like you would at school and have a school fire drill, you want to do it in house to make sure everybody knows how to get out, where to go, all those things.

AE: And this is more of a summer question, but in your 18 years, have you ever had a 4th of July off, and does that holiday in particular put you on edge, just knowing I the activity that happens on a day like that?

MK: So I think I’ve had a couple of 4th of Julys off when I was in different assignments, not in fire investigations, and obviously not now as a fire marshal, but it always gives us a lot of concern. Fireworks are incredibly dangerous in DC. Certain fireworks are legal. But just because they’re legal doesn't mean they’re safe. And the fireworks that are legal, they can still burn you, they can still injure you, they can still destroy property, all these things. It’s really dangerous. And then we know illegal fireworks that get brought to the city, those are super dangerous. They explode. They can go in the air. We’ve unfortunately had serious injuries. We’ve had deaths over the years occur due to fireworks. And we really want to just make sure everybody’s safe. We want to make sure everybody can enjoy the 4th of July, enjoy the summertime, and not spend time in the emergency room, not blow off hands or fingers or anything else. Nobody wants that. So really, the push for us starts beginning springtime for a big public safety push to make sure everybody knows, first of all, what’s legal, what’s illegal. And then the best way to enjoy the 4th of July, we always recommend coming down to the National Mall. It’s a great show. We have our inspectors down there making sure all that stuff is safe, too, and really leaving it to the professionals and enjoying the time with everybody else in the community and just watching the show and not having to worry about ending up in the emergency room.

AE: Just one last question for you. You’ve been doing this for 18 years now in a very high managerial position, have had a number of different roles over the years, but what keeps you excited about this work and what keeps you most engaged, would you say?

MK: I think every day is different, right? And no two incidents are the same. No two fires are the same. No two days in my office here are the same. There’s always something new. And like I said before, I’m always learning something new every day. I think that’s what keeps me really excited, to see what’s going to happen next, to see how we’re going to be challenged, to see what the next task is that we have to do. I really enjoy what I do. I enjoy working with the people throughout the department, but especially in my division here. We have great people that work here. They’re passionate about what they do. They want people to be safe. They want to reduce fires, reduce injuries, reduce deaths. I mean, there are not a lot of other places where you can see the impact that you have on a daily basis. And when we see people that have time to get out before an emergency happens because of some planning that they did, or when we see fires that were able to be kept small because of the efforts of our outreach team or anything else—a lot of the things that we do, you can see the benefits. Seeing that and being able to have that impact across so many different parts of the city is really what keeps us engaged every day.

AE: Mitchell, thank you for taking the time and [providing] a lot of great resources for people to look at. And best of luck as we get toward wintertime.

MK: Andrew, thank you so much. Great to talk to you and looking forward to talking to you again.

AE: That was the winter episode of the 30 Minutes On podcast from American University magazine. Thank you so much to our guest, Mitchell Kannry, for joining us to chat about his career with DC’s fire department and how we can stay safe this winter and beyond.

Be on the lookout for our winter 2023 magazine, which hits mailboxes soon, and read up on other challenges being tackled by members of the AU community, from the transition to a cashless society to water waste to neighborhood change.

Let us know what you think—about the podcast or the winter magazine—by emailing or chatting with us on Twitter or Instagram at @AU_Americanmag.

You can find previously recorded podcast episodes and subscribe with Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or Amazon. A full transcript of the show is available on our website at Our theme music is “Laurel Breeze” by Evan Schaeffer.

Thanks for listening, and stay warm—but also safe. We’ll see you next time.