While attending the N.C. Association of Fire Chiefs mid-winter conference, I had the opportunity to talk with fire chiefs from all areas of North Carolina. They told me about the stress that many firefighters have been under during the first few weeks of 2018. The reason: The cold weather that we experienced during the first month of the year — the frigid weather in many parts of the state — has triggered an extraordinary number of fires, and fire calls.
I’ve heard from some fire chiefs that they fought as many fires in January 2018 as they fought all last year. This has got to be really stressful and tiring for our firefighters — both our career firefighters and our volunteer firefighters.
I want to thank our firefighters and first responders for their work, for their sacrifice, for their efforts to save lives, for their efforts — when we’re seeking heat and comfort — to go out into the cold elements and try to save lives and save property.
If you talk to them about this and thank them for their efforts, they’ll probably say it’s just part of their job. But I know that it’s more than a job. It’s a mission. It’s a passion. It’s a life. I want to express my gratitude, along with the Office of State Fire Marshal, the Department of Insurance, and all the people of North Carolina for the efforts and sacrifices our firefighters and first responders have made during the first part of 2018.
This can be stressful for our career firefighters. These folks are human beings. Seeing fires ravage homes is something that’s difficult for all of us. It’s difficult for career firefighters, too, even if it’s their job to go out and fight fires.
It’s tough on volunteer firefighters, too. They could be thinking that could be their home, or their friend’s home, or their relative’s home. The stress of seeing someone’s house burn, of seeing people perish in a fire has got to be traumatic.
I hope that any firefighter experiencing stressful times will seek some time off, or if necessary, counseling.
Also, please remember how many people have died this year in fires. At last count it was 32 so far this year, 29 of which occurred in January. That’s a staggering number. In January 2017, there were nine fire-related deaths in North Carolina.
Meanwhile, I ask everyone reading this to take the steps to make sure you don’t become one of those statistics. Please make sure you have working smoke alarms in your home. Also, follow the manufacturer’s precautions if you use supplemental heaters, such as kerosene or space heaters, in your home. Don’t set your heaters close to furniture, walls or draperies. Those recommendations are there, not because they sound good, but because they can save your home or your life.
We can’t do without our firefighters. We’re so grateful that they’re out there on the front lines fighting the elements, fighting fires. Again, I express my thanks. And I want to ask you, if you see a firefighter, perhaps someone wearing a firefighter T-shirt or a firefighter license tag on the front of their car, just take a moment and thank them for their service. You never know how much that little bit of appreciation will go.
Mike Causey is North Carolina Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal.