The city of North Charleston is fighting to overturn two citations issued by state workplace safety officials in connection with its handling of a July 2010 fire on Purity Drive in which three firefighters were injured.
The state Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the North Charleston Fire Department for failing to properly monitor the whereabouts of its firefighters battling the blaze and for not having enough personnel at the ready to help in the event of an emergency. The citations carried a $2,000 fine.
The city maintains that OSHA overstepped its authority and is attempting to enforce regulations that the state never formally adopted or notified fire departments to follow.
Of particular concern is a standard that would require the first fire captain on the scene to fill out worksheets detailing firefighter assignments and other information before helping to extinguish the blaze, attorney Sandra Senn, who represents the city, said.
OSHA maintains this would improve safety at fire scenes, but opponents argue that the measure saddles the most experienced member of the fire crew with bureaucratic chores at a time when every second counts.
“Our fire department is meticulous in its safety procedures, but what OSHA is requesting could endanger our citizens, their property, and our firefighters,” North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said. “If your house is on fire with family members inside, would you want the first responding fire captain to be filling out paper work or saving your family?”
The city has also contested a citation for failing to adhere to the so-called “two in, two out” rule throughout the fire. That safety practice requires that at least two firefighters enter a burning building and remain in contact while at least two more remain outside, ready to help should an emergency arise.
Though one firefighter mistakenly left his assignment outside the building and entered the home during the fire, photographs show the department had more than enough people on the outside to compensate for his absence, fire officials said.
OSHA officials would not discuss the North Charleston case or the new requirements for firefighters because the case is being contested in Administrative Law Court. In court papers, however, OSHA has argued that the citations should stand because the fire department exposed its firefighters to recognized and potentially deadly hazards, such as being trapped in a burning building.
The case stems from a fast-moving blaze that tore through a two-story home on Purity Drive, in the Hollow Oaks neighborhood, on July 7, 2010. Shortly into the fire, an explosion occurred, injuring three firefighters. Photographs from the scene show two of the men scrambling from a second-floor window as smoke billows out.
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