Charleston Chief Reacts to Report

In addition to making specific recommendations, the task force prioritized the issues.

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Fire Chief Rusty Thomas said he and his men are ready to roll up their sleeves and get busy.

"Our priorities are safety, firefighter accountability and incident command," he said Wednesday night, hours after the task force review committee recommended sweeping changes.

The panel of fire service experts has been analyzing every aspect of the department in wake of the June 18 blaze that killed nine firefighters.

They said priorities include establishing a health and safety program, increasing staffing and enhancing training.

Thomas said he welcomed the report, and understands his work is cut out. "As I've said, I will do everything I can to improve this department. Their priorities are mine..."

By the end of the year, he said there will be four firefighters assigned to each ladder and engine. A recruit class starts in November.

As for the promotions suggested by the panel, Thomas said those also will come eventually.

"We're working on a promotional test or process. I've done all the promoting. But, tthat will change. We will have a formal process, and a committee that will interview people. Some may be from outside the department too."

As for the suggestion of embracing a crew resource management style, Thomas said he believes it would work in Charleston. "Anything that will enhance decision making. If it will make the scene safer and protect my firefighters, it will be good."

He added that committees are being established have to address such things as protective gear, training and health and safety. Another will be looking at equipment purchases and establishing specs for apparatus.

Thomas said it won't be easy, but he's committed. "...We're all committed."

In addition to making specific recommendations, the task force prioritized the issues. The panel placed "strong emphasis" on firefighter health and safety.

"Safe behaviors should be encouraged through positive reinforcement and recognition, while behaviors that needlessly place firefighters in danger should not be tolerated," the report states.

Thomas has implemented the majority of recommendations -- the majority of which involved safety issues -- that the group suggested in its first report released in August.

Staffing continues to be a priority. While the department now has four personnel per shift at all companies, there are no extras to fill in for vacancies.

Among the highest priorities include:

  • Administrative Culture and Leadership -- Input by people on various issues would enhance the success of the department. Crew resource management style should be implemented.
  • Health and Safety -- A comprehensive program should be developed based on NFPA standards. Scene operations should be critiqued.
  • Training -- Incident command and operational safety procedures remain the very important. The training division should consist of a battalion chief and three captains. A training curriculum needs to be established.
  • Staffing -- A minimum of four people should be on duty at all times. Overtime and compensatory times should be made available to maintain the level.
  • Equipment -- Large diameter hose and appropriate equipment should be purchased.

The group also suggested the city assist in the reduction of fire risk by strengthening codes and promoting the use of sprinklers.

During a press conference, Thomas said: "Today is the beginning of a new era for the Charleston Fire Department. We are dedicated to increasing the level of training and providing new equipment and additional staffing for our firefighters. We will be working together in the Fire Department to implement these changes so we can provide the highest level of fire service to our community."

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said during the press conference: "I am committed to bringing the Charleston Fire Department to the highest possible national standards in the fire service. Importantly, the implementation of the Fire Review Team???s recommendations will be done with the Fire Department working together -- as it has in the past -- as a team. Our firefighters work hard and put forth an extraordinary effort for our citizens each and every day. Their dedication to providing exemplary service to the citizens of Charleston, as well as the Fire Department's efforts to implement the recommendations in the Phase I Report, will make the Charleston Fire Department a national model."

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