Charleston Fire Chief Karen Brack gives little new information on boat crash, admits need for safeguards

Charleston Fire Chief Karen Brack speaks this afternoon as a news conference.

Charleston Fire Chief Karen Brack said a crash involving the city’s $850,000 fire boat shows the need for new safeguards for the vessel’s operators, but she wouldn’t discuss how they might have prevented the incident last month.

Speaking with reporters this afternoon, Brack released little new information about the wreck, explaining that discussing whether training shortcomings or equipment failures played into the episode would be “premature.” She said human error likely played a role and that the department would “absolutely” consider using a lookout on its boat in addition to the pilot.

Asked for further information, Brack declined to name the boat’s pilot and to discuss the number of hours of training he has received. She reiterated that the pilot has a Coast Guard license and has had experience in Charleston Harbor since 1998.

Alongside Coast Guard Capt. Mike White, however, she called for a regional training and assessment team that the Coast Guard would be involved with and that could serve as a national model for firefighters on the water.

The boat crashed into a buoy April 13 while responding to a harbor jetty where a 34-foot Navy vessel had crashed. Five sailors were hurt.

North Charleston firefighters responded and helped pump water out of the boat.

During the news conference today, Brack said the Charleston boat was equipped with bilge pumps but that her department was awaiting another grant before acquiring additional water pumps.

Last week, Brack also addressed the incident in front of City Council’s Public Safety Committee, but she issued few conclusions about it. She said she had planned to deliver a memo about the accident to Mayor Joe Riley today.

The department asked the Coast Guard to investigate, Brack said, partially because of its knowledge of procedures that might be helpful in avoiding similar situations. The military’s investigation could take up to six months, White said today.

Brack has said the department might adjust its operating procedures and boost nighttime training exercises. The chief said the 36-foot boat had been used in two other rescues this year in Charleston Harbor. One was at night.

Last week and again today, Brack couldn’t give a damage estimate or say when the boat, which was christened in November, might be back in action because the department is still trying figure out who will assess it. The boat was built in Canada by a manufacturer approved by the National Fire Protection Association, she said. It’s possible that it will be shipped back there for the repairs.

Most of the boat’s price tag was covered by an $825,000 federal grant.