Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey on Tuesday told high school students attending the High School Firefighter Challenge that there is a critical need for volunteer firefighters across the state.
Commissioner Causey, who is also the State Fire Marshal, encouraged the 21 teenagers to continue pursuing a future in the fire service field.
Concerns facing fire departments, especially the difficulty that volunteer fire departments are having recruiting and retaining firefighters, was the focus of a two-day trip to western North Carolina.
Commissioner Causey visited the Clemmons Fire Department, the Burnsville Fire Department, the West Yancey Volunteer Fire Department, and the Mars Hill Volunteer Department on Monday.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Causey visited the Asheville Fire Department and met with members of the Fairview Volunteer Department in Buncombe County. The Fairview department’s efforts to beef up its standards has resulted in an increase in its fire rating from 6 to 3, meaning that residents in the area will be able to save on their homeowner’s insurance.
Commissioner Causey also visited the Marion Fire Department in McDowell County and the Icard Township Fire and Rescue Department in Burke County on Tuesday.
The 21 high school students participating in the High School Firefighter Challenge “are really motivated and gung-ho to learn to be a volunteer firefighter and gain their fire certification,” Commissioner Causey said. “I’d like to see more of this in the future and more people come to realize the importance of their local volunteer fire departments.”
“If you have that emergency or that house fire, the first people you want to see there are your volunteer firefighters,” Commissioner Causey said.
Commissioner Causey noted the challenge facing volunteer fire departments. A number of volunteer departments are struggling. Some have been taken over by their county governments because they couldn’t keep a sufficient number of volunteer members.
The Office of State Fire Marshal and fire departments are encouraging youth to get involved in fire service through a number of programs.
Asheville Assistant Fire Chief Barry Hendren said his department is sponsoring the Asheville Fire Escape Camp, a four-day summer camp for middle school aged kids. “It’s really designed to spur an interest in that age kid to look toward the fire service as a career, after they get out of high school,” Hendren said. He said 32 children are participating in the program this year.
In Marion, firefighters and emergency personnel were teaching fire safety for elementary and middle school age children at West McDowell Middle School. Firefighters taught youngsters the proper way to use fire extinguishers. They were also taught what to do if they were in a building that was on fire.
Other programs geared toward youth are high school firefighter training programs in a number of the state’s school systems, firefighter explorer programs and junior firefighter programs sponsored by local fire departments.