Honoring the Charleston Nine Through Inspections and Pre-Fire Plans

The idea has been shared with the fire service nationwide to show the importance of fire prevention inspections, of pre-planning and showing the families of the fallen firefighters their sacrifice has not been forgotten.

In May of this year the United States Fire Administration hosted the fifth Prevention Advocacy Resource and Data Exchange (PARADE) Conference at the National Fire Academy. The conference attendees include fire marshals and inspectors, public educators and officials from state fire agencies. During the three-day conference attendees have the opportunity to hear about new prevention programs, exchange resources and network with one another.

One presentation during the conference was on the Super Sofa fire in Charleston, SC. This furniture store fire killed nine firefighters in June of 2007. Reflecting on the presentation afterwards, it was evident this fire could have happened in most cities across the country. The questions left with me were why and how? Why do we continue to let fires like this happen and how could we prevent a similar tragedy from happening again?

The next day, after thinking more about the Super Sofa fire and seeing the damage of another furniture store fire in a nearby town in Pennsylvania, an idea came to mind. What if we used the resources of the fire service and the power of the internet and launched a campaign to inspect and pre-plan furniture stores across the county?

The plan would be simple: Ask fire marshals and inspectors or the authority having jurisdiction to inspect all furniture stores in their municipality and have the fire department create or update their pre-plan for the facility. The request would be made to complete this work in the days prior to the second anniversary of the Super Sofa fire on June 18, 2009. Would this be an avenue to stop a similar tragedy from happening?

Another feeling still with me from the Super Sofa Store Fire presentation was the families of the nine fallen firefighters. It's well known the families of any fallen firefighter like to know their sacrifice has not been forgotten. Having suffered a line-of-duty-death in my own department over 10 years ago, we know how the sudden loss of a husband/wife, father/mother, brother/sister, uncle/aunt or fellow firefighter can be a life changing experience. Why not honor these sacrifices, while trying to prevent another tragedy?

That night I had the opportunity to share the idea with several of my peers at the National Fire Academy. After talking with a few friends and asking if they would participate, it was obvious a new idea was born at the PARADE Conference. The idea was brought home, refined and supported by my county fire marshals and inspectors association. Now the idea has been shared with the fire service nationwide to show the importance of fire prevention inspections, the importance of pre-planning and showing the families of the fallen firefighters their sacrifice has not been forgotten.

How many departments will participate? Time will tell. If you do participate please complete the online survey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=kOOGDvMDPpn0IaadXaiwDQ_3d_3d.

While completing the inspections and pre-plans remember to look for these common violations:

  • Improper storage of materials in electrical and sprinkler rooms, or mechanical rooms.
  • Combustibles too close to heat sources.
  • Obstructions in exit aisles, exit access and discharge areas.
  • Storage too close to fire sprinkler heads.
  • Storage too close to ceilings in unsprinklered stores.
  • Fire doors being propped or wedged open.
  • Improper storage of flammable and combustible liquids.
  • Electrical extension cords being used as permanent wiring.

An after action report will be generated showing the number of furniture stores inspected, the number of violations found and the estimated man hours invested in the project. To those of you participating, thank you. If you're not participating, reconsider. It's not too late.

Through education, enforcement and pre-planning this project will demonstrate the fire service is committed to the safety of those we serve and those who choose to serve their community. To the nine fallen Charleston firefighters and all who have made the ultimate sacrifice, this one's for you.


WILLIAM TIMMONS has 27 years of fire service experience and is a battalion chief for the Ridge Road Fire District in Greece, NY, and works part-time as fire marshal in the Town of Gates. He serves on the IAFC Fire and Life Safety Section Board of Directors, is President of the Monroe County Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association and serves as the International Fire Marshals Association FEMA Region II representative to PARADE.