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Since taking office in January 2017, Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Mike Causey has worked to bolster the N.C. Department of Insurance’s effectiveness, and feedback from folks across the state has helped toward that end. On Wednesday, he met with locals and toured several Wilson County facilities.
“I wanted to see behind-the-scenes of what all the Wilson Fire/Rescue Services is doing,” Causey said, highlighting the department recently achieving the prestigious Class 1 insurance rating. “It helps when I can meet face-to-face with firefighters and trainees to see what they are doing here that makes them one of the best departments in the state.”
Causey and Senior Deputy Commissioner Brian Taylor gave an overview of the department responsibilities as well as efforts to improve North Carolinians’ safety.
“We’ve had a record number of fire deaths this year. We had several deaths in the past week, but since Jan. 1, we’ve had 103 people die in fires in North Carolina,” Causey said. “And last year, for the whole year we had 83, so we’re not even though August, but we’ve had more, so that is a huge issue and something we’ve been working all year to address.”
Taylor said the number of deaths likely was underreported in previous years since statistics were obtained through voluntary reporting to the U.S. Fire Administration, but now North Carolina fire departments have 48 hours to notify Causey’s department about fire deaths.
“We felt the fire death rate was more than what we knew and now we have true numbers to go across the street to the legislature with and get the funding we need to help with the community risk reduction program and things of that nature,” Taylor said.
With Causey’s department taking the lead, 90 fire departments across the state in June canvassed more than 4,000 homes, 500 of which did not have a smoke alarm at all and 1,100 that had non-functioning smoke alarms. More than 3,000 fire alarms were installed across the state, including 54 by Wilson firefighters.
“That was a very successful program throughout our city that day,” said Deputy Fire Chief Jim Campbell. “All of our crews worked in different areas within the city and found the same as other departments with houses that did not have smoke alarms or alarms without batteries.”
Taylor said the statewide smoke alarm effort garnered nationwide attention and could result in lives saved in the future. Causey toured Wilson’s Adventure House, which is next to the fire department headquarters and teaches thousands of children every year about fire and storm safety.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Causey exclaimed after the tour. “You’ve probably got the premier safety house in the whole state.”
Causey also met with cadets in the Wilson Community College fire academy, where he touted the importance of volunteer firefighters in the state.
“I live in Guilford County outside of Greensboro on the farm I grew up on and we’re in a volunteer fire district, so I’ve made it a mission as I’ve traveled around the state to do everything we can to help the volunteer fire departments,” he told the cadets. “Volunteer departments are struggling to recruit and retain volunteers, so I certainly appreciate the commitment all of you are making to the fire service.”
During Causey’s visit, he also met with volunteers at the Bakertown fire department on Webb Lake Road southeast of Elm City and the Contentnea department on N.C. 42 near Wilson. The former insurance agent also met with agents at Corbett & Scott Insurance and Tyson Wooten Insurance to hear concerns and discuss what’s being done to make the state insurance department more responsive to residents.