NIOSH Releases Report on Charleston Sofa Super Store Fire

The NIOSH investigators made numerous suggestions after spending months probing the operations.

 The long-awaited NIOSH investigation of the deadly Charleston furniture store -- released Thursday afternoon -- contains a multitude of suggestions but no surprises.

The June 18, 2007 fire claimed nine firefighters during operations inside the building that had been renovated repeatedly without permits or inspections.

NIOSH investigators, who spent months investigating the deadly blaze, pointed out training, water supply and communications issues among other things that led to the fateful outcome.

Charleston Fire Chief Tom Carr said his department has made many strides in the way it does business now. Safety is now at the forefront.

"I consider the NIOSH report a good document. There's nothing in it that we didn't know," he said about an hour after it was made public.

Carr, who took over the helm in November, added: "We've changed just about everything we do. We have new SOPs that include a new command structure."

They also are changing their mutual aid policy so the closest neighboring department will respond when necessary. They also will be training together as well.

Carr said obtaining FIRE Act and SAFER grants also have been a boost. In addition to rescue tools and firefighter safety equipment, they've used the money for tools and other items. SAFER funds allow them to hire additional personnel.

He said the vast majority of the issues raised by NIOSH have been addressed. "We've had a lot of things going on down here."

A number of those changes were started by former chief Rusty Thomas, who stepped down on the eve of the release of a highly critical investigation conducted by a panel of fire experts.

Carr said he is proud of the cooperation he's received since his arrival. Fire officials across the state and region have been very supportive.

But, the people he's most proud of are those in the Charleston Fire Department. "There are things to do, many things, but we're working on them together..."

Gordon Routley, who led the group that probed every aspect of the blaze, said he didn't expect there would be major differences in the two reports. "We exchanged information and talked a lot during our investigations. Obviously, they are writing for a different audience."

Routley also commended Charleston for its work since the deady blaze in 2007 that thrust it into an international spotlight.

"They've made great progress. They've addressed all the key points. Some things were addressed immediately after we arrived. Others have taken time. But, there are changes going on there. You can't do things overnight."

Routley and members of his panel have been involved in at least 40 presentations since publishing their analysis of the blaze. "Our purpose is to get the word out to as many people as possible. We've heard some say there are things that occurred in Charleston that also were happening in their departments. Hopefully, they are learning because that's what it's all about -- saving firefighters' lives..."

Among the NIOSH panel's suggestions were:


  • Develop, implement and enforce written standard operating procedures (SOPs) for an occupational safety and health program in accordance with NFPA 1500

  • Develop, implement, and enforce a written Incident Management System to be followed at all emergency incident operations

  • Develop, implement, and enforce written SOPs that identify incident management training standards and requirements for members expected to serve in command roles

  • Ensure that the Incident Commander is clearly identified as the only individual with overall authority and responsibility for management of all activities at an incident

  • Ensure that the Incident Commander conducts an initial size-up and risk assessment of the incident scene before beginning interior fire fighting operations

  • Train fire fighters to communicate interior conditions to the Incident Commander as soon as possible and to provide regular updates

  • Ensure that the Incident Commander establishes a stationary command post, maintains the role of director of fireground operations, and does not become involved in fire-fighting efforts

  • Ensure the early implementation of division / group command into the Incident Command System

  • Ensure that the Incident Commander continuously evaluates the risk versus gain when determining whether the fire suppression operation will be offensive or defensive


    Ensure that the Incident Commander maintains close accountability for all personnel operating on the fireground

  • Ensure that a separate Incident Safety Officer, independent from the Incident Commander, is appointed at each structure fire
  • Ensure that crew integrity is maintained during fire suppression operations

  • Ensure that a rapid intervention crew (RIC) / rapid intervention team (RIT) is established and available to immediately respond to emergency rescue incidents

  • Ensure that adequate numbers of staff are available to immediately respond to emergency incidents

  • Ensure that ventilation to release heat and smoke is closely coordinated with interior fire suppression operations

  • Conduct pre-incident planning inspections of buildings within their jurisdictions to facilitate development of safe fireground strategies and tactics

  • Consider establishing and enforcing standardized resource deployment approaches and utilize dispatch entities to move resources to fill service gaps

  • Develop and coordinate pre-incident planning protocols with mutual aid departments

  • Ensure that any offensive attack is conducted using adequate fire streams based on characteristics of the structure and fuel load present

  • Ensure that an adequate water supply is established and maintained

  • Consider using exit locators such as high intensity floodlights or flashing strobe lights to guide lost or disoriented fire fighters to the exit

  • Ensure that Mayday transmissions are received and prioritized by the Incident Commander

  • Train fire fighters on actions to take if they become trapped or disoriented inside a burning structure

  • Ensure that all fire fighters and line officers receive fundamental and annual refresher training according to NFPA 1001 and NFPA 1021

  • Implement joint training on response protocols with mutual aid departments

  • Ensure apparatus operators are properly trained and familiar with their apparatus

  • Protect stretched hose lines from vehicular traffic and work with law enforcement or other appropriate agencies to provide traffic control

  • Ensure that fire fighters wear a full array of turnout clothing and personal protective equipment appropriate for the assigned task while participating in fire suppression and overhaul activities

  • Ensure that fire fighters are trained in air management techniques to ensure they receive the maximum benefit from their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA)

  • Develop, implement and enforce written SOPS to ensure that SCBA cylinders are fully charged and ready for use

  • Use thermal imaging cameras (TICs) during the initial size-up and search phases of a fire
  • Develop, implement and enforce written SOPs and provide fire fighters with training on the hazards of truss construction

  • Establish a system to facilitate the reporting of unsafe conditions or code violations to the appropriate authorities

  • Ensure that fire fighters and emergency responders are provided with effective incident rehabilitation

  • Provide fire fighters with station / work uniforms (e.g., pants and shirts) that are compliant with NFPA 1975 and ensure the use and proper care of these garments.