Experts suggest department changes after Charleston fire


By Bruce Smith
The Associated Press  

CHARLESTON, S.C. — A team of experts reviewing the response to a furniture store fire that killed nine firefighters said Friday the city should improve command posts at fires, use larger hoses and hire more firefighters.

"This is the list," J. Gordon Routley, who is heading up the review, told reporters a day shy of the two-month anniversary of the fire. "This is a priority list."

The seven-member team was named earlier this month and arrived in Charleston this week to review how the city handled the June 18 fire at the Sofa Super Store.

The fire resulted in the worst single loss of firefighters' lives since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Routley, a consultant to the U.S. Fire Administration and the retired fire chief of Shreveport, La., said a complete report should be finished in about a month.

He said the team reviewed city fire department procedures and had not yet specifically focused on the firefighters' response.

The team called for three new fire positions, including an assistant to the chief and a department safety officer.

It also recommended that two dispatchers always be on duty and that all engine and ladder trucks always have at least three firefighters on duty.

The team suggested the department improve on-scene command and control by having the first chief at the scene set up a command post. Off-duty firefighters should report there, the team said.

The department should also follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommendation that there be two firefighters outside a building for every two inside fighting a blaze.

Codes for radio, such as 10-4, should be dropped and firefighters should clearly say what the message is, the team recommended.

Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said he and Chief Rusty Thomas "endorse completely" the recommendations and will put them into effect.

Federal, state and local officials are still investigating the cause of the blaze. They have said, however, the fire started in a loading dock behind the store where workers took cigarette breaks.

Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said Friday the investigation continues but would not give a timetable for its completion.

The city is paying about $150,000 for the team to review the fire procedures and response, and develop a plan for improvements.

The fire review task force made the following recommendations after the initial review:

Personnel

  • Establish Assistant to the Chief position. Fill with qualified officer on 6 month temporary assignment
  • Establish Fire Department Safety Officer position. Fill with qualified officer on 6 month temporary assignment
  • Public Information Officer
  • Minimum of two dispatchers on-duty at all times
  • Maintain minimum staffing of three on-duty firefighters at all times on all
    existing engine and ladder companies (staffing and overtime impacts)
  • Incremental movement over two years to achieve four on-duty firefighters
    on all fire companies (staffing and overtime impacts)

    Command 
  • Apply incident command procedures on all incidents (ICS – NIMS
    procedures)
  • First arriving officer assumes command, performs size-up and
    provides direction for all others
  • First arriving chief establishes exterior Command Post and remains
    at Command Post
  • Subsequent arriving higher ranking officer may assume command
    after command transfer process
  • Safety Officer assigned for working fires and hazardous incidents
  • Rapidly implement personnel accountability system with passports
    and PAR

    Safety
  • Reinforce appropriate use of personal protective clothing and SCBA
  • Reinforce the use of seat belts and standard emergency response
    vehicular operations
  • OSHA 2-in/2-out to be followed at all times
  • Reinforce management procedure for off-duty firefighter response to
    emergencies

    Training
  •  Initiate and complete Incident Command and tactical operations training
    for all officers
  • Provide training for all fire department members in firefighter safety and
    survival, risk management, air management, standardized actions for
    lost/disoriented firefighters, rapid intervention operations, objective-based
    tactical operations, and other critical firefighter safety procedures
  • Provide incident safety officer training for all command officers and health
    and safety officer training to selected personnel
  • Assure that all new firefighters are trained and certified in accordance with
    South Carolina State standards/NFPA Firefighter II before assignment to
    emergency duty

    Response and communications
  • Increase initial structure fire response to three engines and one ladder
  • Utilize the third engine as the Rapid Intervention Team (RIT)
  • Working fire – dispatch Assistant Chief, Second Battalion Chief, 4th
    engine company and an EMS unit
  • Utilize the second-arriving Battalion Chief as the incident safety officer
    unless staff Safety Officer is on scene
  • Communications changes including the elimination of 10 codes and the
    use of the tactical radio channel for responses

    Water supply
  •   Changes in water supply standard operating procedures with near-term
    transition to large diameter supply hose
  •   Use of 1-1/2 inch hose, or larger, for interior attack as well as vehicle fires
  •   Changes to standard nozzle configuration and flow for all handlines
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