ELIZABETHTOWN — North Carolina State Fire Marshal and Department of Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey made a stop in Bladen County on Tuesday to present an award and visit local stations.
Clarkton firefighter Rusty Marsh was honored with the Order of the Guardian, an award that recognizes state residents for community service. Marsh is only the second recipient state wide of the highest honor someone can receive from the Department of Insurance.
After presenting the award to Marsh at the Clarkton department, Causey also visited stations in Elizabethtown and Lisbon.
“Commissioner Causey has really been reaching out to rural fire departments, specifically to get input on how they can help with the departments’ needs,” explained Elizabethtown Fire Chief Nick West. “Big city departments tend to get a lot of attention, so it’s been nice to see them focusing on rural areas.
“People used to be scared when the state came for a visit, but that was one of the things I commented to the Commissioner — that the state is really trying to work well with the departments now,” he added. “They’re bending over backwards to try and see what they can do to help folks that just don’t know.”
West said he talked to the commissioner about two things: grants and volunteer incentives.
“Right now, there’s not a whole lot of incentive to volunteer with the fire department except the fulfillment of being a volunteer,” he explained. “If you volunteer for 20 years, you get $180 a month in retirement. That’s nice, and it’s better than nothing, but that’s not a lot for volunteering your time for 20 years.”
Though some departments do offer incentives locally, doing so takes money out of the department’s budget, and not all departments can afford to provide some sort of stipend.
“Some states do tax relief — they reduce property taxes,” commented West. “Those types of incentives require legislative effort and a group of people coming together and saying, ‘We have to solve this problem’.”
Causey also heard from the departments about the necessity for grant funding.
“He was gracious to come by and hear our needs,” said West.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.