Charleston Mayor Discusses Fatal Blaze

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Mayor Joe Riley issued a statement Tuesday night about the ongoing probes of the tragic Sofa Super Store fire.

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The mayor's press conference came on the third month anniversary of the blaze that claimed nine firefighters.

"It's a coincidence that today is the anniversary," said Barbara Vaughn, city public information officer. "He is doing this to keep the community informed about what's happening."

Nothing precipitated the conference either, she said, adding that the mayor has vowed since that horrific night to get answers not only for his department but for firefighters nationwide.

The second set of recommendations for the Charleston Fire Department due out by the end of the month will address issues such as firefighter health and safety, community risk evaluation and incident operations.

The panel of national fire service experts -- selected by Riley -- has been examining the department's policies and procedures for the past month.

Riley said city residents are supportive of their fire department, and understand the importance of the outside evaluation and assistance. The cost of the review has not been determined as yet. However, the mayor said it will be worth every penny.

"We want to learn and we want others to learn from this tragic incident," Riley said, adding that he believes fire departments across America will benefit.

This next report is expected to be about 80 pages of observations and recommendations, said Pete Piringer, a panel member who is assisting with public information dissemination in Charleston.

Other issues to be addressed include apparatus and equipment, station uniforms, staffing and fire department organization.

Chief Rusty Thomas said the changes he's implemented thus far makes the department safer.

Thomas was hearing the Monday morning quarterbacking before all the hotspots at the Sofa Super Store were extinguished in June. "I knew each of those men personally. They weren't just numbers."

The department now has a safety officer and an assistant to the chief. They've hired 13 firefighters, and have plans to add six dispatchers.

They've also adjusted the number of engines and officers dispatched on the initial alarm. Firefighters now don their turnout gear before they hop into the apparatus.

All command officers are slated to attend a special course at the Montgomery County, MD fire training academy.

"It's all about safety," the chief said during an interview in his office last week.

"It's been a tough time for the community and our fire department. And, we're closer now than ever before."

Thomas said citizens always showed a special interest in the men assigned to the stations in their communities. "That support has grown in the past three months."

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