The Charleston Review Team; An Emotional Search for the Truth

What does it do to you when your life is immersed in the study of death.What does it do to you when your life is immersed in the study of death?Nine firefighters died in Charleston, S.C. in June 2007 in the Sofa Super Store blaze. Six firefighters were...


What does it do to you when your life is immersed in the study of death.

What does it do to you when your life is immersed in the study of death?

Nine firefighters died in Charleston, S.C. in June 2007 in the Sofa Super Store blaze. Six firefighters were appointed to examine the fire, analyze the incident and explain why such a tragedy happened. But that is too simple of a description of the task.

"I understood this mission in theory before we became involved in the Charleston project, but it became very real and personal as we worked our way through it." J. Gordon Routley.

J. Gordon Routley, project leader, Mike Chiramonte, Brian Crawford, Pete Piringer, Kevin Roche and Tim Sendelbach were chosen for this assignment over a year ago by the Charleston Mayor Joe Riley. For some it was not an easy decision to accept the task. And some of these men were advised not to get involved with a process that focuses on such an emotional issue in an environment where comrades could be held responsible for others' deaths.

The job is not yet done. The six are still to create with the department a strategic, five- to ten-year operational plan. But because of their time and effort so far, two lengthy reports have been completed; Phase One Report, Oct. 16, 2007, an organizational analysis of the Charleston Fire Department. This review was conducted before undertaking the detailed analysis of the Sofa Super Store incident, so that the City and the Fire Department could begin the process of implementing the first set of recommendations, while the incident analysis is being conducted.

And the Phase Two Report, issued May 15, 2008,is a comprehensive analysis of the incident that examined a wide range of factors that could have contributed to the tragic loss of nine members of the Charleston Fire Department. The ultimate objective of this analysis was to identify the lessons that may be learned from this incident, with the goal of reducing the risk of future occurrences of a similar nature.

Those who had anything to do with the Charleston Fire Department prior to the tragic fire, saw in these reports, a scathing indictment of the leadership, operating procedures and culture of the department. The review team was blunt and to the point.

"It is very difficult to realize that nine firefighters, with whom we share a very strong and common bond, could lose their lives so tragically and under circumstances that could have and should have been avoided." J. Gordon Routley.

For this investigation team, immersed this long in the lives and deaths of these firefighters and this incident, could it and should it leave deep impressions on their personal and professional lives? It has.

"In reality, I can't tell you fully how much my life has changed, as a result of this experience -- no one will ever know how heavy it has been." Michael Chiramonte.

"As we studied the situation we learned many things human nature related to the tragic fire that occurred on June 18, 2007. We were exposed to much raw emotion, wonderment, denial, anger, sympathy and grief. We weren't just professional consultants we were firefighters, fathers, brothers, sons all of whom had a deep respect and care for the memory of the Charleston 9 - Mike Benke, Billy Hutchinson, Louis Mulkey, Brad Baity, Mark Kelsey, Mike French, Melvin Champaign, Earl Drayton and Brandon Thompson." Pete Piringer.

Consider that it was important to determine if and when the firefighters killed, or any firefighter gave out a distress call, a call for help or a mayday report anytime during the incident. That meant listening over and over to audio tapes of the radio traffic, for that single moment when they heard "In Jesus name, Amen", and perhaps 20 other pleas for help, or resignation to death. Seeking out those last words was an emotional trial.

"I appreciate more deeply how quickly things in our lives can change." Kevin Roche.

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