NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - Whether it's because of improved record keeping, an unusually harsh winter or merely a perfect storm of circumstances, the bottom line is the bottom line for Mike Causey.
Causey, who is North Carolina's insurance commissioner and state fire marshal, laments the real possibility that the state is on pace in 2018 to double the number of fire-related deaths compared to last year.
After all, there have been 91 such fatalities this year — a dozen more than all of 2017. And 12 percent of that total includes two deaths each in New Hanover, Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus counties as well as another in Onslow.
And it's not even July.
"We've had all sorts of things," Causey said. "Electrical fires. And a lot are cooking-related. People will cook things and they'll forget they have something on the stove. They'll get a call, walk outside and the kitchen catches on fire. So there's a number of factors. We've had some people actually smoking in bed."
Certainly, updated and streamlined reporting procedures can account for a few of those deaths, one that in past years would've either been filed under something different or unreported altogether. Still, the majority follow the familiar scripts that Causey described, leaving his office and the more than 1,200 fire departments in the state to be proactive in terms of both fire prevention and education.
That was the case last weekend when Causey's office orchestrated a statewide initiative to install smoke alarms. Officials, firefighters, and other volunteers installed more than 3,000 smoke alarms in homes across nearly 100 communities in North Carolina, including the Cape Fear Region.
Causey, however, said it was troubling that nearly 500 more didn't have a smoke alarm at all, while about 1,100 homes had smoke alarms that didn't work
"A smoke alarm isn't going to do you any good if it's not working," Causey said, "or doesn't have batteries in it."
Fire education, he said, was one way to teach fire safety along and needs to begin at a young age. Causey said that would also go a long way toward recruitment. According to Chief State Fire Marshall Brian Taylor, there are 52,000 firefighters in North Carolina, about 34,000 of which are serving in a volunteer capacity.
Those are solid numbers, but according to Causey, not nearly enough.
"I think we need to start earlier in the elementary schools and middle schools. And see more fire departments having fire camps for children in the summer and other ways to invite middle school students and high school students to become part of the fire service," Causey said.