Charleston launches own investigation into tragedy
Five weeks after the Sofa Super Store store fire killed nine Charleston firefighters, the city has launched a sweeping review of the fire department's response to the blaze and its ability to handle similar emergencies in the future.
With the aid of outside experts, the city plans to examine the fire department's equipment, procedures and practices with an eye toward improving preparation and response to "critical incidents," Mayor Joe Riley said. The review should provide lessons that will benefit fire departments throughout the nation, he said.
"We've been dealing with a huge tragedy, and this is an opportunity for us to be on the offensive, looking at everything that can be learned from this," he said.
The review will be led by Riley, Fire Chief Rusty Thomas and Police Chief Greg Mullen. The city plans to bring in four to six consultants, culled from a "very distinguished" group of fire service veterans from around the nation, Riley said.
The mayor said the citywide review will encompass everything from firefighting tactics and building codes to sprinkler requirements and programs aimed at helping all public safety workers draft wills.
Riley said the review will likely take several weeks to complete, and the results will be made public.
Many cities launch such reviews as a matter of routine after firefighter fatalities, said Larry Osborne, a vice president with the International Association of Fire Fighters and a former district chief of the Jacksonville (Fla.) Fire Department.
Florida, for example, mandates that its cities conduct internal probes following the deaths of firefighters.
The thoroughness of these reviews varies widely, depending on the make-up of the committee, Osborne said.
Some city-level reviews are diligent and thorough; others lack critical self-analysis and miss many problems later highlighted by federal investigations.
"It depends who is chosen and if you have people who are open-minded," Osborne said. "Sometimes you'll look at (federal and city reports) next to each other and say, 'Were they looking at the same fire?' "