North Carolina Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Mike Causey was on Tuesday’s edition of WIZS’ Town Talk program to discuss his recent visit to various volunteer fire departments in Vance County.
Causey, who visited the Watkins, Bearpond, Epsom and Hicksboro volunteer fire departments on February 28, said it was a pleasure to make his first official visit to Vance County since taking office in January of 2017.
During his day-long visit, Causey presented grant checks for needed improvements, congratulated departments on their improved insurance ratings and discussed efforts to modernize the insurance industry with Joel T. Cheatham Insurance and Jeffrey Ayscue Allstate Agency representatives.
According to a press release from the NC Department of Insurance, Causey presented ceremonial grant checks in the following amounts: Watkins Community Volunteer Fire Department ($29,752); Epsom Fire Department ($11,572); Hicksboro Volunteer Fire Department ($29,765) and Bearpond Volunteer Fire Department ($5,893).
Causey reported that all NC fire department inspections are up-to-date, a feat that he said was accomplished by increasing the number of department inspectors from five to eight.
Prior to his taking office, some fire departments had not been inspected for 25+ years, according to Causey. “You want a department to be inspected, ideally, every five years. Since hiring more inspectors in 2017, we don’t have a single fire department that is backlogged.”
Two of the fire departments on Causey’s Vance County tour – Bearpond and Epsom – recently received improved fire ratings following inspections. Achieving a better rating can result in lowered insurance rates for businesses and homeowners in that fire district.
“Bearpond and Epsom have some real fine buildings; the people are first-class, dedicated firefighters,” said Causey. “It’s easy to see they’ve done the things they needed to do, including mutual aid agreements, to bring their fire rating up.”
When questioned on the national and state-wide trend of decreasing volunteerism, Causey replied, “It’s becoming harder to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters, that’s why you are seeing some departments going to a paid/volunteer combination. We are doing as much as we can at the state level to help the counties and volunteer departments.”
Causey’s trip followed a recent 4-3 vote by the Vance County Board of Commissioners to move ahead with a fire restructuring plan that includes funding paid part-time positions in the County’s volunteer fire departments.
“Volunteer firefighters are the backbone of fire departments across this nation. Across the state, 70% of firefighters are strictly volunteer,” Causey explained.
Junior firefighter programs aimed at getting the younger generation interested in firefighting is the best way to ensure the future of the business, according to Causey. “More and more high schools across the state are offering cadet programs for junior firefighters. Firefighters also go into elementary schools to get children interested.”
In the long run, Causey said the success of a fire department all comes down to the people involved. “You can have the best equipment, the most modern, up-to-date technology, but if you don’t have dedicated, committed people, it’s not going to work. I met good, dedicated people in Vance County.”
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