State workplace safety officials have dropped all fines and citations against the North Charleston Fire Department in connection with a July 2010 blaze in North Charleston that injured three firefighters, the city’s attorney said today.
The state Occupational Safety and Health Administration had cited the North Charleston Fire Department for failing to properly monitor the whereabouts of its firefighters battling the blaze and for not having enough personnel at the ready to help in the event of an emergency. The citations carried a $2,000 fine.
The city fought those citations, maintaining that OSHA overstepped its authority and was trying to enforce regulations that the state never formally adopted or notified fire departments to follow.
Attorney Sandra Senn, who represented the city in the case, and Fire Chief Greg Bulanow confirmed that OSHA has opted to drop its action against the city.
“After an extensive investigation into the North Charleston Fire Department’s response to the July 5, 2010 Purity Drive incident and descriptions of our continued safety efforts, OSHA has concurred that no citations were warranted,” Bulanow said. “We will continue to be steadfast in our duties to ensure the well-being of the citizens of North Charleston and their property, as well as the safety of the brave, dedicated men and women serving in the North Charleston Fire Department.”
The case had drawn wide interest from area fire departments due to the remedies OSHA was proposing.
Of particular concern was a measure that would require the first fire captain on the scene to fill out worksheets detailing firefighter assignments and other information before helping to extinguish the blaze.
OSHA maintained that this would improve safety at fire scenes, giving fire officials a clear picture of who is doing what and where. Opponents argued that the measure saddles the most experienced crew member with bureaucratic chores at a time when every second counts.
The case stems from a fast-moving blaze that tore through a two-story home on Purity Drive, in the Hollow Oaks neighborhood, on July 7, 2010. Shortly into the fire, an explosion occurred, injuring three firefighters.
Photographs from the scene show two of the men scrambling from a second-floor window as smoke billows out.
In its September 2010 report on the fire, OSHA dinged the fire department for failing to use a proper “accountability” system to keep track of firefighters at the scene.
OSHA raised similar concerns with the Sofa Super Store fire after determining that Charleston fire officials didn’t know who was in the furniture showroom when the roof collapsed.
North Charleston fire officials told OSHA they already have a detailed accountability system, which includes collecting identification tags from firefighters at fire scenes. The system stumbled at the Purity Drive blaze because of confusion when the first two engines arrived at the same time.
“North Charleston Fire Department is a very well run organization and in dropping the citations OSHA has ultimately done the right thing,” Senn said. “Sometimes firefighters get injured through no fault or flaw of the employer. It’s a dangerous job and it takes a special person to do it.”
Check back with postandcourier.com for more on this developing story.
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