Charleston firefighters made a number of mistakes in battling a large commercial blaze on Daniel Island last year, but one commander's quick thinking likely saved lives.
That is among the conclusions reached in a final report on the March 1, 2011, fire released Monday by the Charleston Fire Department. The report was completed by an eight-member review team consisting of firefighters from Charleston and surrounding departments.
In December, fire officials groused that a draft copy of the report, leaked to The Post and Courier, was incomplete, unfair, unofficial and riddled with inaccuracies. The final report is far more detailed in its language and has photos, radio transcriptions and diagrams to enhance its educational value to firefighters.
But the findings remain largely the same.
Among other things, the committee found that the first crew to arrive that morning rushed into the burning two-story, commercial building with undersized hoses, no backup, no thermal imaging camera and insufficient water. The incident commander couldn't reach them because the first crew's captain forgot his radio. Backup crews weren't sure where to go or what to do. Confusion reigned as the building's truss roof collapsed in an explosion of flames.
The final report dials back some of the harsher language of the draft, stating, for instance, that the post-incident review was ordered due to the size and characteristics of the fire rather than because of "major violations" of policy, as the earlier copy stated.
But the critique of the blaze at 899 Island Park Drive, at times, still sounds a lot like a review of problems identified at the June 2007 Sofa Super Store fire that killed nine city firemen. And these new mistakes occurred despite nearly four years of intensive and expensive efforts to instill a culture of safety in the Charleston Fire Department.
Speaking to City Council's Public Safety Committee on Monday, Interim Fire Chief Frank Finley acknowledged the "glaring similarities" between the two fires. And Deputy Fire Chief John Tippett noted the difficulties of "trying to rewire" fire crews trained on older ways of firefighting.
"It's not out of the ordinary to have them revert to their last, best-known process," Tippett said.
But Tippett and Finley also stressed that the key difference between the two incidents was the outcome. No lives were lost on Daniel Island, and much credit goes to an incident commander who took decisive action to remove a crew that was inside the building just minutes before the roof went down, he said.
Read more later at postandcourier.com and also in tomorrow's newspaper.