Charleston mayoral candidate William Dudley Gregorie criticized on Tuesday the city administration's response to the death of nine firefighters, saying that if he were in charge, he would quickly change fire department policies.
"As mayor, my head would not be in the sand on this one," Gregorie said.
"No one should be trying to make political hay out of this tragedy," Riley responded. "If we discover any reason to change policies and procedures we will do that."
Gregorie said his understanding of Charleston firefighting procedures and policies was based on newspaper articles he read during the past two weeks.
A portion of his prepared statement was nearly identical to a description of the concerns of firefighters' union officials published in The Post and Courier.
Gregorie said, with regard to needed
changes, that: "More specifically, these procedures involve incident command structure, pre-planning for structures with known fire hazards and procedures for deciding when to fight a fire offensively or defensively."
For example, Charleston Fire Department policy says that the highest ranking officer is automatically in charge of a fire scene and that the officer can engage in firefighting and rescue operations, but federal guidelines recommend that incident commanders remain outside burning structures.
Fire Chief Rusty Thomas has defended departmental policies, saying: "Our firefighting techniques are not going to change in the city of Charleston Fire Department."
Riley also has defended fire department policies and regularly calls Thomas the best fire chief in America, but he said Tuesday that the city is "looking at every bit of information and every possible way to improve policies and procedures.
"Everyone wants to see (the Sofa Super Store fire) thoroughly studied and analyzed, so if there are new lessons to be learned from this tragic experience, everyone can benefit from that," Riley said.
Gregorie, paraphrasing a quotation often attributed to Albert Einstein, said, "To keep doing things the same way, and expecting different results, is insanity."
He also suggested Charleston evaluate firefighter pay to make sure firefighters don't need second jobs.
Gregorie's statements came during the second issue-oriented press conference he has held since announcing four months ago that he was considering running for mayor. The first was in response to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development audit of the Charleston Housing Authority. The audit was conducted after HUD received anonymous tips about the authority and identified lax accounting standards at the institution.
Gregorie, 58, is the recently retired director of HUD's regional office in Columbia and is seeking elected office for the first time.
Riley, 64, is running for a ninth four-year term as mayor in November's general election.