Fire response raises safety concerns at Charleston Fire Department

This photo, which shows the two firefighters at left without air packs, has led to a Charleston Fire Department internal investigation into apparent safety lapses.

The Charleston Fire Department has launched an internal investigation into apparent safety lapses after firefighters responding to a potentially toxic car fire failed to wear full protective gear, including new air tanks the city recently purchased for nearly $1 million.

While department leaders moved quickly Wednesday to find out why procedures were not followed, Tuesday's incident has some questioning the department's commitment to safety improvements recommended in the wake of the Sofa Super Store fire.

The failure of some firefighters to wear air packs and full protective gear at the sofa store blaze was among the concerns the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited in its investigation of the fire that killed nine firefighters.

The latest incident comes as national fire union leaders are in town to speak with city firefighters about the status of the department and the pace of change. International Association of Fire Fighters General President Harold A. Schaitberger is expected to address those concerns at a briefing Thursday morning.

On Tuesday afternoon, a Post and Courier photographer snapped a shot of three firefighters dousing the car blaze atop the Doughty Street parking garage in downtown Charleston. The photo was posted on the newspaper's Web site Charleston.net on Tuesday and soon was picked up by a local blogger who has been critical of the Fire Department's progress since the June 18 sofa store blaze.

"That was brought to the chief (Wednesday) morning and they are investigating it," said Mark Ruppel, department public information officer.

Chief Rusty Thomas and safety officer Bryan Kleskie will be involved in the probe, he said. "The big thing is breathing apparatus," Ruppel said.

Many of the firefighters who responded to the car fire are not scheduled to return to work until Friday so that will delay the investigation to a degree, Ruppel said.

Read more in Thursday's edition of The Post and Courier.