Charleston Command Staff to Train in Maryland

Montgomery County's Command Development Center will host CFD command leadership providing access to MCFRS senior staff.

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service Public Information Officer Pete Piringer has been part of a group of outside investigators reviewing firefighting practices, code enforcement, fire-rescue training and media relations in Charleston, S.C. where nine firefighters died during a fire at a furniture store.

Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. recently commissioned six fire-rescue professionals from around the country to examine the city's fire department and its handling of a fatal fire in June. The Sofa Super Store in Charleston, S.C. blaze killed nine firefighters. Riley has said there's much to be learned from the June 18 incident. It was the worst single loss of firefighters' lives in the nation since the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

The first phase, an analysis of procedure and practices, including media relations, was expected to take about a month, and any recommendations for change could be implemented in the short term. On Aug. 17, the Fire Review Task Force released several immediate impact recommendations, most of which have been or are being implemented by the City of Charleston and the Charleston Fire Department (CFD). Several items recommended by the task force involved Incident Command.

Montgomery County Fire Chief Tom Carr has offered his support to the CFD and will host CFD command leadership providing access to MCFRS senior staff. CFD Assistant Chiefs and Battalion Chiefs will participate along with MCFRS command officers as they begin command development training at the Montgomery County Public Safety Training Academy, in Rockville, Maryland.

Specifically this will involve command competency training that includes classroom instruction, table top exercises and participation using the incident command simulator laboratory. Participants will study Incident Command theories and practices as it applies to structural firefighting, hazardous materials incidents and major, large scale fires. In addition, while in Montgomery County the CFD Chiefs will 'shadow' MCFRS counterparts responding to fires and other emergencies, as well as administrative duties. They will be housed in fire stations with their hosts.

The review team is expected to gather in Charleston this week. A comprehensive report will be presented to the mayor and public safety command staff by the end of September 2007. Later the team will also assemble reports from the various federal, state and local investigations being conducted and compile that information into one report from which the city can work. This could take four months or longer.

The review team includes:

--Gordon Routley, retired chief of the Shreveport Fire Department in Louisiana. Chief Routley will lead the six-member review team. He has good experience with fatal fire investigations.

--Kevin Roche, an assistant fire marshal and assistant to the fire chief in Phoenix (AZ). He is considered an expert on firefighting equipment and research.

--Tim Sendelbach, former chief of training for the city of Savannah (Ga.) Fire and Emergency Services. His role in the review will be focused on training issues. He is currently the President of the International Society of Fire Services Instructors.

--Brian Crawford, assistant to the fire chief in Shreveport (La.) and a resident instructor at the National Fire Academy. Crawford, who holds a master's degree in industrial psychology, will focus on the department's administration and operations.

--Mike Chiramonte, a fire inspector and former fire chief in Lynbrook, N.Y. His expertise is in fire prevention and fire codes.

--Pete Piringer, public information officer for Montgomery County (MD) Fire and Rescue Service. He will oversee the review team's communications and public outreach efforts as well as advise the department on media relations and public information. He will serve as the Task Force spokesperson.

Under the direction of Fire Chief Tom Carr, the Montgomery County (MD) Fire and Rescue Service, an Accredited Agency, is a full spectrum life safety agency protecting nearly 1 million people who live and work in Maryland???s most populous jurisdiction. The MCFRS is a combination system (career/volunteer), operating with a budget of about $200 million, comprised of over 1300 career uniformed personnel and professional civilian staff and an equal number of volunteers, nearly half of whom actively participate in emergency response.

There are over forty fire and rescue facilities, including a 56 acre training academy, state-of-the-art communication facility, as well as thirty-four (34) community fire and rescue stations strategically located throughout Montgomery County's 500 square miles in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

The combined Charleston Fire Department and Montgomery County Fire and Rescue service training will involve a newly fashioned, state-of-the-art Command Development Center located at the Montgomery County (MD) Public Safety Training Academy (PSTA). This new "virtual reality" simulator training center is one of only a few in the United States and the only such facility east of the Mississippi River. It also includes what is believed to be the largest fire and rescue tactical "table-top" venue in the nation. Participants will be some of the first to use the Command Competency Center and learn about methodology and the process for a competency program.

Montgomery County command officers will be joined by Charleston Assistant Chief Larry Garvin and Battalion Chiefs Joe Ackerman, Buddy Aytes, and Tommy Thomas. Hands-on training will begin on Wednesday, Sept. 5. The Charleston Fire Department will be sending groups of four chiefs to Montgomery County for the next six weeks.