Charleston Phase II Report: Poor Training Led to Deaths

Inadequate training, outdated tactics and aging equipment cited in report. CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Water issues, inadequate training, no truck operations, building code violations, communications problems and no incident commander. These were just a few...

Routely said it's imperative that officers know when it's time to change tactics and "get firefighters out of harm's way."

There was no accountability whatsoever.

According to the report, "The first person outside the building to become aware that firefighters were in trouble inside was an off-duty Battalion Chief (Car 303), who was enroute to the scene in his personal vehicle. He heard traffic on his portable radio that indicated a firefighter was lost and unable to find his way out of the building. The radio traffic was not heard by anyone at the fire scene."

"Car 303 attempted to contact the Fire Chief at 19:30:27 to advise him of the situation, but was unable to establish contact on the busy radio channel. He continued to the fire scene as quickly as possible, parked his vehicle, and located the Fire Chief on the west side of the fire building, near the loading dock. The face-to-face exchange with Battalion Chief 303 was the Fire Chief's first indication that firefighters were in distress."

Routely said no one had been assigned to listen. Fragmented messages of distress were not heard.

He also said the panel determined that the firefighters really didn't have a Mayday plan in place. Crews were not instructed when to call for one, and what to do to save themselves while awaiting rescue.

Basically, he said, if someone called in a Mayday in Charleston, "we will figure out what to do."

The former fire chief added that firefighters need to know when to call for help. "We don't hire timid people..." Panel members also learned that the department didn't refill air bottles until the PSI dropped below 1,500. Tanks typically have 2,214 PSI. So, some firefighters may have gone into the store without a full tank.

Routely said there has been quite a bit of discussion on the breakage of the front display windows. "Was it the right or wrong thing to do? At that point, there were not a lot of options...They knew they had firefighters in trouble." The best option would have been a hole in the roof to allow the fire to vent, and clear. "But, you can do that in 30 seconds..." Examining pictures, the panel determined that there was "severe heat stratification" in the store. At first, outside air was drawn into the showroom. However, that soon reversed, according to the report. conditions suggested a flashover or backdraft was about to occurr.

And the report does not shy away from stating conclusions frankly. "The Charleston Fire Department was inadequately staffed, inadequately trained, insufficiently equipped, and organizationally unprepared to conduct an operation of this complexity in a large commercial occupancy."

"The final analysis of this incident does not suggest that any of the firefighters who lost their lives, or any of the surviving members of the Charleston Fire Department, failed to perform their duties as they had been trained or as expected by their organization. The analysis indicates that the Charleston Fire Department failed to adequately prepare its members for the situation they encountered at the Sofa Super Store Fire."



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