While visiting the Salemburg Fire Department, Mike Causey enjoyed meeting volunteers who are ready to save lives at a moment’s notice.
As the North Carolina Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal, he’s prepared to help too. Causey traveled around Sampson County Thursday and spent time with firefighters and presented matching grant checks to departments to Turkey, Herring and Salemburg. The total was more than $31,000 and will be used to purchase equipment and capital expenditures. Causey also made a stop at the county’s Emergency Services building and Black & Associates Insurance in Clinton.
Each year, the office gives out between $8 million and $10 million each year in matching grants. Awards are announced in May.
“I congratulate the Salemburg Fire Department for their efforts,” he said. “Of course, we always have more needs than we have money. We have applying for grants who are sometimes turned down for those grants. One of the main reasons this grant is given out is for firefighter safety.
“When those fire departments focus mainly on firefighter safety and one or two items, they’re more likely to get it than someone who tried to do 10 different things,” Causey said.
Salemburg Fire Chief Scott Owen received a check from the state office for more than $9,000.
“I’m glad to see him come visit us and I really appreciated the service they provide as far as grants,” Owen said. “We would not have the equipment we got if it weren’t for grants through the state and other people as well.”
The department also received assistance through South River Electric Membership Corporation.
“Grant really help us because it doubles our money,” Owen said.
The Salemburg Department is planning to purchase five sets of turnout gear, hand equipment for the trucks and a four gas monitor, which checks gas levels after a blaze.
“When we go into a house after a fire, we can check the gases to see what the gas levels are and to make sure it’s safe for our guys to take their packs off,” Owen said about the safety measure.
The goal for Causey was to witness firsthand the concerns of chiefs, volunteer firefighters and emergency management personnel. He also wanted to spread awareness about smoke detectors, a statewide event scheduled for Saturday, June 23. With the help of emergency officials, Causey would like to see smoke detectors delivered to homes without one.
“The vast majority of fire departments across the state are participating in that,” Causey said. “We been working all year to call attention to the need of people to have working smoke detectors.”
As of Thursday, there has been 90 fire deaths in North Carolina in 2018. In 2017, it was 83 fatalities. Frigid weather was a factor in the tragedies because of inexpensive space heaters not being used the right way.
“We started out with a large number of fire deaths in 2018 because of cold weather, snow and ice,” he said. “By the end of February, the numbers were triple to what they were in 2017.”
Having a heater next to a curtain or near upholstered furniture were some of the examples mentioned by Causey.
“They forget about it, go to bed, fall asleep and a fire starts,” he said. “They never wake up.”
Causey added that another reason for the fire was cooking and not paying attention to the stove.
Through investigations, Causey said a large amount of fire deaths occurred when people didn’t have working smoke detectors in their homes.
While showing support for departments, Causey said another problem facing them is the lack of volunteers. He added that it’s a struggle for many across the state to retain firefighters over a period of time. In certain cases, he said chiefs may lose four out of five firefighters in five years. One way to help with retention of volunteers is having the Junior Firefighter programs in high schools. Causey said there’s about 60 schools with the program.
“We have a handful of high schools across the state with fire academies and fire training facilities right there on the high school campus,” he said. “All of our community colleges participate in firefighter certification classes, but some of our community colleges have actual firefighter training facilities there on campus.”
During the visit, Causey was joined by several county officials such as Sampson County Fire Marshal Jerry Cashwell and Ronald Bass, director of Sampson County Emergency Management.
“I appreciate the job that he’s doing and I appreciate what he’s doing for Sampson County.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook