Review Team to Look at Charleston Tragedy

Six fire-rescue professionals from around the country to examine the city's fire department and its handling of a fatal fire in June.

Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. has tapped 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 group of outside investigators will review firefighting practices, code enforcement, fire-rescue training and media relations in Charleston where nine firefighters died during a fire at a furniture store.

The Sofa Super Store 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.

Federal officials (ATF), initially looking at the possible cause have traced the fire to an area near the loading dock but have not released an exact cause. The review team's work will be split into three phases. Piringer and the team will conduct an "intense diagnostic analysis" of the fire department's practices and procedures, compile reports from various investigations and draft a long-range plan that will chart a future course for the Charleston Fire Department.

The first phase, an analysis of procedure and practices, including media relations, should take about a month, and any recommendations for change could be implemented in the short term.

Later, the review team will 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.

Finally, the review team will draft a long-range strategic plan that will possibly chart a future course for the City of Charleston Fire Department. No time estimate was given for this phase of the review.

The review team includes:

All of the members have signed on with a one-year commitment, which can be extended six months if necessary.

Montgomery County (MD) Fire Chief Tom Carr fully supports the review team concept and will be sending Mr. Piringer to assist the Charleston Fire Department in the process. In an arrangement with the City of Charleston, he will be donating his time. The other members of the review will be paid consulting fees.

Piringer will travel to Charleston soon and the team is expected to begin work the week of August 13.

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