10/04/17 — Insurance commissioner visits county fire departments

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Insurance commissioner visits county fire departments

By Rochelle Moore
Published in News on October 4, 2017 5:50 AM

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Mike Causey, North Carolina insurance commissioner and state fire marshal, talks about the need for volunteer firefighters during a visit to the Mount Olive Fire Department Tuesday. Causey is joined by Mount Olive Fire Chief Greg Wiggins.

Mike Causey, commissioner of the N.C. Department of Insurance and the state fire marshal, met with local firefighters, police officers and other leaders Tuesday during a tour through Wayne County.

Causey's first stop was the Mount Olive Fire Department where he took time to socialize, eat lunch and share concern about the need for volunteer firefighters, not only in Mount Olive but also statewide.

"Mount Olive is a key area for Wayne County," Causey said. "It's reflective of rural North Carolina."

Causey also stopped in the rural Wayne County town due to the Department of Insurance's connection to the area, with its eastern region director, Brent Heath, being based in Mount Olive. Heath is also a volunteer fireman and chaplain for the town fire department.

Causey, who has been traveling the state, made a stop in Wayne County in an effort to raise awareness of the struggles fire departments face in recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters.

"In our heyday, it was our businessmen in downtown," who served as volunteer firemen, said Mount Olive Fire Chief Greg Wiggins.

"Close to 75 percent of fire protection in this country is volunteer."

Times have changed, Causey said, with employers unwilling to let employees leave work to respond to fire calls, Causey said. In years past, many volunteer firemen either worked on farms or at family owned or small businesses, all which allowed volunteer service as needed.

"You've got these chain stores and big employers that don't want employees leaving during the day," Causey said. "So, where do we find the volunteers?

"And what can we do to provide incentives to recruit volunteers and how do we keep the volunteers" There's much more competition now for time."

The amount of time it takes to train and become certified is also more difficult than it used to be, he added.

"So, you take all those things and it's a problem," Causey said.

As state fire marshal, Causey offered support from his office in helping bolster recruiting efforts. He also said incentives may help and added that recruiting efforts are showing success in high schools.

"The biggest obstacle, I think, that the fire departments are facing today is volunteers," Causey said. "They're having trouble recruiting volunteers and retaining volunteers and that is a hot topic of discussion of how do we do better as far as recruiting more volunteers and retaining those volunteers."

During his visit, Causey explained some of the oversight roles of the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the N.C. Department of Insurance. Divisions of the Office of the State Fire Marshal include state building codes, engineering codes, manufactured housing, risk management, fire and rescue training and inspections and fire investigations.

One of the largest challenges the Department of Insurance, which regulates the insurance industry, is cracking down on insurance fraud.

"We are paying for it," he said. "As consumers, every time you write a check to the insurance company to pay your premiums, car insurance, homeowners, 15 to 20 cents of that dollar is going to pay just for fraud."

Each month, the department receives between 400 to 500 insurance fraud complaints. The legislature has allocated additional funding to the department, which will allow the hiring of more investigators, Causey said.

"We had 43 counties in North Carolina last year that had no arrests," Causey said. "That's not because there was no fraud there. It was because we didn't have enough manpower to go out. So, we are getting tough on insurance fraud."

While Causey was in Mount Olive, he toured the fire department and also cranked up the fire siren on the department's first motorized vehicle -- a 1926 American LaFrance fire truck.

Causey was also presented with a Mount Olive Fire Department patch and a Mount Olive Police Department patch.

He also visited the Goldsboro Fire Department on Center Street and the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair.