NC chief fire marshal fired, re-hired in political battle
The clash between the state legislature and insurance commissioner has a major impact on safety.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The feud over the state fire marshal position has the General Assembly in one corner and Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey in another. In the middle, is the future of fire prevention across the state.
Over the past month, Causey fired, then re-hired the Chief State Fire Marshal he originally appointed in 2017. Two other employees of the Office of the State Fire Marshal also lost then regained their jobs. In a statement, Causey wrote he was required to reinstate the employees by the General Assembly.
“The more we take politics out of fire safety, the more time they’re going to have to train people and actually make people safety,” David Wheeler said during an interview with WBTV. Wheeler is a Democrat running to unseat Causey, a Republican.
WBTV previously reported on a new law passed by the General Assembly that makes the Office of State Fire Marshal an independent office. Currently, the NCDOI Commissioner holds that position but appointed Brian Taylor as Chief State Fire Marshall to oversee day-to-day operations.
Under the new law, Causey can appoint the state fire marshal, but the General Assembly has final authority by approving the nomination.
Over a period of several weeks the state legislature then updated the law, requiring Taylor to continue in his role until an independent state fire marshal is appointed. In response, Causey fired Taylor and two other employees in the state fire marshal’s office.
He then re-hired Taylor and the other employees saying, “the General Assembly also took an extraordinary measure that is unheard of in state government – it prevented me from making organizational decisions regarding the direction of the Department, including the retention of employees I appointed to positions within the Department.”
“While I do not agree with the actions taken by the General Assembly, I am performing my constitutional duties as a state-wide elected official of our great State,” Causey wrote in a statement.
“My opponent has lost the confidence of the legislature, his own party,” Wheeler told WBTV. “The people that run it, Brian Taylor and Mike Williams are good people. That’s the kind of person that should be running that office, not an elected official like myself or like my opponent.”
Chief State Fire Marshal Brian Taylor told WBTV he was “”grateful the General Assembly has allowed me the opportunity to continue serving.”
WBTV’s research of legislative changes to the code revealed the General Assembly has carved out numerous exemptions to the state fire code. That includes allowing farm buildings to host weddings and other large events without having to follow codes required for other assembly venues, and a law exempting migrant housing from fire sprinkler requirements.
WBTV asked Wheeler if giving the General Assembly ultimate approval on who is the state fire marshal is the best thing for the office.
“Yes, having a wall of separation between the elected insurance commissioner, and that’s going to be me in 2025, and the state fire marshal’s office, I think, is a good thing,” Wheeler said. “Now, it will be an independent organization accountable to the legislature, but the legislature is not going to be there every day telling them how to run the the department as well as where to make grants.”
“The state fire marshal does a lot of grant making where they get federal money and then they allow the local departments to apply for that money, and there shouldn’t be any politics in that either,” Wheeler said.
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