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Panel assembled to review fatal blaze

Mayor calls on 6 experts to find out what went wrong at Sofa Super Store

The Post and Courier
Friday, August 3, 2007

Mayor calls on 6 experts to find out what went wrong at Sofa Super Store

Gordon Routley, a retired fire chief from Shreveport, La., has been named to lead a team that will spend up to a year and a half examining how the Charleston Fire Department handled the Sofa Super Store fire June 18.

Mic Smith
The Post and Courier

Gordon Routley, a retired fire chief from Shreveport, La., has been named to lead a team that will spend up to a year and a half examining how the Charleston Fire Department handled the Sofa Super Store fire June 18.

Examining a tragedy

Here's a look at what the six-member team will be doing in its review of the Charleston Fire Department and its handling of the Sofa Super Store fire:

--The team first will analyze the department and its practices and procedures. This should take about a month.

--Later, it will gather reports from various federal, state and local investigations into the fire and compile that information into one comprehensive report. This could take could four months or longer.

--Finally, the team will draft a long-range strategic plan that will chart a course for the fire department. No time estimate was given for this phase.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley on Thursday named what he described as an "all-star" panel of firefighting professionals to examine the city's fire department and its handling of the Sofa Super Store blaze that killed nine firefighters.

Riley said he and other city leaders scoured North America to find the best minds in the fire service, because firefighters around the country might someday benefit from lessons learned from the June 18 tragedy. "This fire was a national event. There is so much to be learned."

The effort is expected to cost the city more than $150,000.

Gordon Routley, retired chief of the Shreveport Fire Department in Louisiana, will lead the six-member review team. Routley has been involved in fire service since he was 13 years old. He holds a civil engineering undergraduate degree and a master's degree in public administration, and he serves as technical adviser for the Montreal Fire Department.

Standing with Riley and Charleston Fire Chief Rusty Thomas at a news conference, Routley said he was honored and humbled to accept such a "sacred challenge."

Before accepting the post, Routley said, he and the team members sought assurances from Riley and Thomas that the review panel would have unfettered access to the Charleston Fire Department and information related to the sofa store blaze.

"We wanted to make sure that it would be thorough and independent and out in the open," Routley said. "We didn't want to be involved in something where information would be hidden or where something embarrassing would be overlooked."

Thomas said he owes it to his fallen brothers to embrace the review and its findings. "We welcome the assessment."

Several recent stories in The Post and Courier have raised questions about the department's aggressive style of firefighting and its handling of the fire that night. Among other things, fire safety experts have pointed to an apparent lapse in command during the fire and a lack of proper protective equipment for some of the firefighters at the scene.

Riley said the review team's work will be split into three phases. First, the team will conduct an "intense diagnostic analysis" of the fire department and its practices and procedures, Riley said. This should take about a month, and any recommendations for change will be acted on immediately, he said.

Later, the review team will assemble reports from federal, state and local investigations and compile that information into one report from which the city can work, Riley said. This could take four months or longer, officials said.

Finally, the review team will draft a long-range strategic plan that will chart a future course for the department, Riley said. No time estimate was given for this phase of the review.

The team will arrive in Charleston in about a week and a half to begin work. A hand-picked group of assistant and battalion chiefs from the Charleston Fire Department has been assigned to assist the group, but Riley stressed that the outside experts will be afforded independence to conduct their work.

The review team includes:

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

--Tim Sendelbach, former chief of training for the city of Savannah Fire and Emergency Services. His role in the review will be focused on training issues.

--Brian Crawford, assistant to the fire chief in Shreveport and a resident instructor at the National Fire Academy. Crawford, who holds a master's degree in industrial psychology, recently wrote an article on the fire service's risky traditions for Fire Chief magazine. He coined the term "duty-to-die syndrome" to label the tendency of some firefighters who view dying in the line of duty as heroic.

Bikers reaching out

Motorcyclists from across South Carolina will ride Saturday in Charleston to raise money for the families of the nine firefighters killed at the Sofa Super Store.

Registration begins at 10 a.m. at Brittlebank Park on Lockwood Boulevard. The ride, which will total about 80 miles, ends at the Kick'n Horse Saloon and Restaurant at 5105 Highway 17 North in Awendaw. The cost is $15 per bike and $5 per passenger. There will be food, entertainment and a raffle at the end of the ride.

For more information, contact John Winn with the Charleston Fire Department at 297-7828.

--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 director for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service in Maryland. He will oversee the review team's communications and public outreach efforts.

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

Five of the six members will be paid for their work. Piringer has agreed to donate his services. The rest of the members are to be paid $100 per hour and no more than $800 per day. The compensation for any member of the team cannot exceed $35,000 during the course of the review, Riley said. That amount includes travel and other expenses.

"We think it's worth every penny," Riley said. "If it prevents one injury, it would be worth it."

Billy Goldfedder, a deputy chief in Ohio and a commentator for the fire service Web site, applauded the mayor and the city's assembling of what he called a "credible, educated and fair" group of experts. "It's rare to see a politician stand up and say, 'Tell me everything,' " he said.

Roger Yow, a former captain with the Charleston Fire Department and president of the local firefighters' union, said it's crucial that the review panel operate with autonomy. "We can only hope, for the sake of our firefighters, that Mayor Riley will allow this panel of experts to work independently from the city and the fire chief."

Yow said he is hopeful the team will delve into areas such as command structure, operating procedures, training and equipment. "No one can change the past, but the mayor has the power, ability and the responsibility to do everything he can to make sure this never happens again in our city."

Reach Ron Menchaca at or 937-5724. Reach Glenn Smith at or 937-5556.

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This article has  81 comment(s)

Posted by oldfric07 on August 3, 2007 at 7:20 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Too bad the training reveiw will be conducted by the Savannah guy and not someone with experience in large municipal training.

Further, the amount of time allows for the Mayor to get past the November elections.

Posted by Neponset on August 3, 2007 at 7:51 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Lets hope that this group is truely independent and will report things as they are, and not just a group of hired hands who will give Joe what he wants.

Posted by Neponset on August 3, 2007 at 8:20 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Looks like Joe is not giving the experts many work hours per week to do a thorough investigation ie $100 per hour not exceed $800 per week which is 8 hours per week. If they use all of their allowance of $35K it will take 43.75 weeks! Why restrict hours per week, unless Joe wants to ensure nothing will come out until after election?

Posted by ssm on August 3, 2007 at 8:31 a.m. (Suggest removal)

It's not to exceed $800. per day.

Posted by trm2105 on August 3, 2007 at 8:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Why the heck is everything being referred to as a "sacred?" Its an awful, awful tragedy that should never have happened. I've been disturbed ever since Riley used that word. Don't get me wrong, the loss of those nine lives is the worst, but calling the site sacred, the challenge "sacred," and probably the report "sacred" is nothing but an emotional tourniquet to stop the bleeding from the chief's and Riley's bull-headed policies and absence of leadership. Really, what could a memorial at the "sacred" site say anyway, "This nine brave souls lost their lives...for a store full of love seats." This just shouldn't have happened, and a certain higher-ups should answer for it. Now that would be sacred.

Let's just hope the investigation isn't obscured by such emotional pandering and truly operates independently of the mayor's interests.

Posted by Neponset on August 3, 2007 at 8:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Thank you for that - I now feel a little better about the possibliity of this teams chances of doing a good job.

Posted by vesta on August 3, 2007 at 10:18 a.m. (Suggest removal)

One difference between Cincinnati and their report and Charleston is that the Cincinnati fire department is the entity that requested the report to be done. They didn't have to wait for the mayor to request it. Cincinnati FD was concerned that even ONE of their own had died. Maybe I am reading this wrong, but I don't believe the Mayor will give up his political power to save a fire chief. Is it possible that this panel is going to help the mayor take care of business? From various interviews, videos and news paper articles, it is obvious that there have been and are problems with our CFD. Had the mayor fired the chief right after the fire, it would have been political death for him, especially after his initial comments supporting the chief. To wait until January when the chief's contract is up could result in more negligent deaths for ffs and, again, political death for the mayor. To wait until NIOSH comes out with their report may also be political death for him. People would ask why the mayor and city council didn't look into this immediately. What do you all think? If this team is allowed free reign, I think the results will be most valuable to some real progress in the CFD; however, it seems like this will take some time (possibly longer than NIOSH?)

Posted by Neponset on August 3, 2007 at 11:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Joe is a very smart man and a very experienced mayor. He approached this disaster with a lot of carefully chosen words to show that he was deeply saddened by what happened and initially expressed support for the leadership of the CFD. But I can not believe that he did not feel the heat building as a result of the really hard hitting news articles in the N&C and the greatest outpouring of comments on a recent news article (ie concerning the fact the the CFD had heat sensing devices, but didn't use them). The number of posts/comments far exceeded the posts on the Al Paris disaster - which was big. So he felt that he had to do something to settle things down and so he assembled this team and that is where we are today. I only hope that this team will have a free hand and not be controlled by the mayor.

Posted by vesta on August 3, 2007 at 11:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Neponset: Amen.

Posted by nickiegarbeil on August 3, 2007 at 12:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Anyone know how long Rusty has until retirement? A year and a half...hmmmm..maybe just enough time for the two to get their 'affairs' in order to leave office before the big bang? Just speculation-I don't know when they are eligible, but it sure seems funny.

Does anyone know if there is any connection with the Savannah investigator?

Posted by nickiegarbeil on August 3, 2007 at 12:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I honestly think this investigation is a moot point...mostly for public relations and damage control...the real reports, OSHA, NIOSH...those will be the ones that the people in Charleston listen to...they are independent bodies without internal influence(I hope anyway). Once those reports come out, I think we will see MAJOR changes in the city make-up. I think if they show the responsibility IS in fact on the Chief, the Mayor will have some serious explaining to do to his devoted followers-if he doesn't act in some fashion before hand.

I think the P & C has done a great job so far hitting hard with their articles and questions, I just hope they can keep them coming for a year so this doesn't fall through the cracks.

Posted by bickleseagrave on August 3, 2007 at 12:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I agree with Nickie here, the members of this panel are now essentially employees of the City of Charleston. The NIOSH investigation will be a lot more non biased. A year and a half is absurd, hopefully some changes start happening before the final report to protect the brothers.

Posted by Neponset on August 3, 2007 at 1:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The problem with this and all the other disasters that are current is that they are turned over to the experts for analysis or for a court to slowly grind on and we are left in the dark wondering how things are going and we lose focus and then we forget about them (just the sort of thing I think Joe is hoping for). We need some answers now and we need a status report from time to time - N&C keep us updated. How about the little sail boat that was run down by a large tour boat who did not have the right of way?

Posted by bickleseagrave on August 3, 2007 at 1:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

As far as a "Sacred Memorial" the money earmarked for parks etc would be better spent buying Large Diameter Hose, High Gallonage Deck Guns, Thermal Imaging Cameras, Accountability Boards, Positive Pressure Ventilation, Incident Command and RIT Training. It would be a fitting tribute to the "Charleston 9" if the department were brought up to today's standards, without waiting for a report to tell them to do so.

Posted by vesta on August 3, 2007 at 1:29 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Although we are a long way from the Phoenix Fire Department , both geographically and in fire department tactics, I wanted to pass this story along It will have to be in two posts: Fire Fighter Brett Tarver was from Phoenix. He died in a supermarket fire in Phoenix on a summer afternoon several years ago and was the first LODD in the Phoenix Fire Department in about sixty years.

The NEXT THREE DAYS following his death, Chief Brunacini brought every single member of the Phoenix Fire Department BY SHIFT to the scene. This was done so they could see the layout of the building, where Tarver was lost, where he was found, and how difficult it was to extricate him. Several months later, a simulator was built to represent the same conditions as the supermarket (i.e. narrow aisles, limited visibility, poor egress paths). Every member of the Phoenix fire department was required to participate in training in the simulator.

THAT is how to honor our dead brothers. Promise 2 things:

1.) We'll never forget them.

2.) We'll remember how they died and LEARN from it so that we won't get killed the same way.

Posted by vesta on August 3, 2007 at 1:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Note that Brunaci did NOT say after Tarver’s death, “Our firefighting techniques are not going to change…” “We’re safe, we’ve got the best equipment, we’ve got the best people and that’s the way we fight fire.” “That is the tradition that has been carried on in the …fire department since time was time.” “We’ve come from a long line of traditional fire fighting, and we are never going to get away from that—never.” Those were some Chief Thomas’ words after the SSS fire in Charleston.

Applying this in house department review (such as the Phoenix FD did) would involve improving communications, command and control, strategy and tactics through proper training by EVERY officer in the CFD. Obviously the TIC (thermal imaging camera), ventilation, search and rescue and above all RIT (Rapid Intervention Team) training would involve all the members.

Chief Brunacini admits today that the Tarver incident was the Phoenix fire department "flying in an everdiminishing circle until we finally flew up our own a$$". Prior to Tarver's death, the firefighters had participated in fires over and over again and finally "got caught" and unfortunately they "paid the price of getting caught with the life of one of their own." His admission is obviously the first step, his swift action of bringing everyone to the scene also allows for no Monday morning quarterbacking (at least in the department), and the training prevents the same incident from re-occurring. As I said, we're a long way from Phoenix.

On a previous site, I read the difference between a “Chief” and a “Chief who is a great leader”: A chief is in charge of the fire department. A “Chief who is a great leader” is in charge of the fire department, has the respect of his firefighters and learns from any and all mistakes and takes responsibilities when they are his. He helps others learn from their mistakes so everyone, at the end of their shift, goes home alive.

Posted by ccalder on August 3, 2007 at 1:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I have always believed that Rusty Thomas would step up to the plate once things settled a bit and welcome an investigation of the Sofa Store fire. Despite what many of you think, I have had the privledge to work with him in past years and consider him to be a very good man with the very best of intentions. But more importantly, I also consider him to have been a top notch firefighter, Captain, and now Chief. Did he make some mistakes? Perhaps, but is it reason to fire him? I am quite sure that he will never be the same after such a huge loss ~ this tragedy will affect him the rest of his life. I am amazed at the number of people who believe he should have been immediately fired following the incident. How many of us would think the same of ourselves in a similar situation? Wouldn't it be considered fair to thoroughly investigate the matter first? I would think that in such severe and unfortunate circumstances, there would be several areas where one would find mistakes made. While it's true that Rusty Thomas is the Chief and the responsibility ultimately rolls down to him, there should be many things to consider before dismissing someone from such a position so quickly. As far as Mayor Riley goes, he may not be a perfect man either, but he has done many good things for the City of Charleston ~ the good far outweigh the negative. I cannot believe that his goal in giving the Committee a year to investigate such an overwhelming and tragic incident is geared toward passing the November election. Who would possibly wish to rush such an investigation anyway? Do we not want it to be as thorough and as helpful as possible in order to avoid such a senseless incident again? I find it very discouraging to believe (as many seem to do) that so many of the Investigative committee members that are unconnected to the CFD could so easily be bought and not produce a thorough report after such a great loss. It seems to me that many are thinking so negatively about everyone and everything ~ seeming to want to believe the worst. I prefer, however, not to believe the worst of such men until I am proven wrong. Isn't that what living in America is all about?

Posted by vesta on August 3, 2007 at 1:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

ccalder: LIVING in America is exactly If I thought I MIGHT be negligently responsible for the deaths of NINE men, I believe I would personally have to turn in my resignation before ANY investigations. Rusty's problem is that he thinks nothing was done wrong. How could nine men die when NOTHING was done incorrectly.

Posted by fyrmnjim on August 3, 2007 at 1:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

City of Charleston in violation of Federal Labor Laws.
(See: hours worked and moonlighting sections).
This is a synopsis from a Law firm in NY, but this is also applicable in SC.
This is not an option for either the city or employees. This is Federal Law!

Posted by bickleseagrave on August 3, 2007 at 2:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Ccalder, read these quotes again, Rusty did not say we have a problem let's see what we can do to fix it.
He said he would do everything again the same way!!

Charleston Fire Chief Quotations
This is a selection of quotations from Fire Chief Rusty Thomas to the Post & Courier since the June 18, 2007 fire.

Chief Thomas:

"Will I have trouble hiring nine people?" he said. "Not one bit."
"The captains in our fire departments, they call the shots," Thomas said. "They made the decision."
A copy of the inspection report is kept in a truck at the nearest station, and at the fire department headquarters downtown at Wentworth and Meeting streets. But the report would have been worthless on Monday, Thomas said. "It would not have been any use to us with the amount of fire that was there," he said.
“as far as if they knew it was steel truss construction and stuff like that, I don’t know if my guys knew or not."

Charleston Fire Chief Rusty Thomas said Friday that he does not know whether his department's policies mirror federal and state guidelines for managing a fire scene. "I don't know," he said. "I know we have our own."

"I'm just going to let you know we have our own incident command system. We have it written that the highest-ranking official is automatically in charge. I don't care how it is anyplace else."

"Our firefighting techniques are not going to change in the city of Charleston Fire Department,"

"We're safe, we've got the best equipment, we've got the best people and that's the way we fight fires," he said.

"That's the tradition that's been carried on in the city of Charleston Fire Department since time was time," Fire Chief Rusty Thomas said. "Are we going to let someone's property burn? No, sir."

"We come from a long line of traditional firefighting, and we are never going to get away from that — never," Thomas said. "You can't read out of a book how to put a fire out. You have to go out there and do it, and that's what we do."

"The booster has its place in the Charleston Fire Department, and it's up to our captains on the truck to pull whatever size hose they think is needed to put the fire out," Thomas said. "That's the way we do it."

Thomas said fire crews did not take any cameras into Sofa Super Store that night. "I don't know why," he said.
"We keep them on the front seat of the ladder trucks, so that when they get off and he (the captain) needs the camera, it's right there," Thomas said.

Posted by Neponset on August 3, 2007 at 2:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The problems with your idea are:
1. I have heard that Joe only entertains one set of ideas -his own.
2. If he followed your idea, it would be an admission that there is something wrong with CFD.

Posted by fyrmnjim on August 3, 2007 at 2:22 p.m. (Suggest removal)

“as far as if they knew it was steel truss construction and stuff like that, I don’t know if my guys knew or not."

This is by far my favorite quote.

Is "stuff like that" a technical term that us Yankees don't know about??? :-)

Posted by bootlicked on August 3, 2007 at 2:36 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Ccalder, how do you know he was a good firefighter, a captain, or a good chief? Rusty didn't have experience as a firefighter or a captain. He just had nine men loose their lives because of his incompetence. You think he is a good chief with his nepotism, favoritism, and on top of it all his complete ignorance when it comes to 21st century firefighting? Give me a break. He is hiring so why don't you go get a job he needs more people just like you so he can keep doing what he has done make his salary double, make his brother a chief over many more skilled employees, and get six of my friends killed. You evidently don't have a clue about the fire service.

Posted by oldfric07 on August 3, 2007 at 2:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I'll say Rusty was a good Captain. However, after being named Chief, his defects became apparent. He is hostile to any idea that may bring the department into the 21st century. He was and is responsible for the welfare of his subordinates. He failed.

Posted by oldfric07 on August 3, 2007 at 2:50 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The scoop

Posted by easy on August 3, 2007 at 4:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Hey Chief Rusted, Hey Mayor Joe Blow, I know you guys. I know if this is a truly independant panel seeking the TRUTH. Neither one of you will make any changes and accept that you have both seen better days and long out lived your time. I guess we will just have to wait for the people of Chas. to speak at election time....

Posted by trm2105 on August 3, 2007 at 4:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)


i don't know when we got away from holding those in authority responsible for events such as this (perhaps sometime after September, 2001), but its a bad trend. Something major goes wrong and no one's head roles (figuratively speaking, of course). I don't know about anyone else, but if I were seriously negligent in how I conducted my work I'd be fired in a heartbeat, even without the possibility of loss of life.

Posted by Kerry on August 3, 2007 at 5:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Expert Analysis:

1) Fire starts outside building in loading dock area where employees frequently smoke cigarettes

2) Fire departments receive confusing 911 call but respond quickly to the scene and begin extinguishing flames behind building

3) Assistant chief enters building and opens flame proof metal door at rear of store allowing fire to spread inside above ceiling area undetected while thermal cameras sit on front seat of fire truck

4) Hose teams sent into building to search for unconfirmed missing store employee

5) Absence of fire suppression system allows superheated, highly combustible furniture and materials to burst into flames creating rapid flashover and toxic smoke.

6) Building becomes fully engulfed as personel break out large glass windows providing even more oxygen to now uncontrolable fire

7) Known to be dangerous roof truss system melts and collapses trapping firemen who apparently never receive signal from command to retreat

8) Nine firemen die unable to escape, building is a total loss

Do we need to spend another $150,000 to confirm this?

Posted by oldfric07 on August 3, 2007 at 5:36 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The fact is the firefighters didn't die from the collpase. The pathologists say they died from smoke inhalation and thermal injuries.

Kerry lets make your 8 points a bit closer to fact

1. Fire begins in outside loading dock.

2. Fire department receives call and responds. (Booster is off the truck early in the scene prior to 1 1/2 being CHARGED)

3. Assistant chief enters building in violation of OSHA regulations, departmental policy, while not wearing PPE. He fails to order a ceiling tile pushed to check for fire in the space above the suspended ceiling. Further he moves around the scene never establsihing a proper command post.

4. Hose teams do what they do at every fire large or small-they advance hoselines.

5. Absence of suppression systems is a statewide failure of politics. Knowing these circumastances the Chief of Department still supports an interiror attack AFTER the sole occupant is rescued.

6. Front windows are vented by order of the Incident Commander WHILE his interior crews are inside.

7. A flashover occurs. THEN the roof fails.

8. Nine brave men die while other courageous men attempt to help find them. Building is a total loss.

Is $150,000 too much to spend on the truth compared with 45 million for an aquarium or 1 million for a ladder truck?

Posted by fyrmnjim on August 3, 2007 at 5:46 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Good points Oldfric.

Kerry, have you even bothered to read the Cincy report? The City of Cincinnati, their fire dept, and their local all dedicated themselves to find out what happened with Oscar, what deficiencies they had and improve them in order for that tragedy to never occur again. That was just a residential fire with only 1 death. Surely those 9 brave men deserve at least as much from Charleston, the CFD, and YOU!

Posted by OldChasFirefighter on August 3, 2007 at 5:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I agree with oldfric, Rusty was a good fireman in his day. He came up in the Wilmot Guthke period. Wilmot started as a fireman in 1948, and took over from Chief Shokes in 1967. one of the problems is that the department still basically approaches firefighting the same way they did in the 50's. The mindset of the administration has not evolved as the buildings and materials that they try to put out have.
Once again, I have never had anything against Rusty, I have always liked him. You can put a jockey on a plowhorse, but that still won't make it a racehorse.

Posted by oldfric07 on August 3, 2007 at 6:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Posted by vesta on August 3, 2007 at 6:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

fyrmnjm: I finally finished the Cincy report. Lengthy,but very comprehensive. I was very impressed that the FD of the City of Cincinnati requested the panel review instead of the mayor requesting it. (See my post above "Chief" and "Chief as a great leader"). Deficiencies were found and improvements would cost a great deal of money, but as I said before, there just isn't a price on a human life (much less nine lives). When will politicians learn that foresight (providing adequate training, equipment and paying for a top notch chief) is better than hindsight (paying for lawsuits, panel reviews, buying property to set up as a memorial). I know, I know, probably never.

Posted by savff on August 3, 2007 at 6:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)


You obviously haven't investigated Tim Sendelbach. First, Savannah has more companies and personnel than Charleston. Secondly and most important is Tim is a nationally recognized expert in training. He is not a local and began his career in Kansas City. He is one of the most progressive,knowledgable people I've ever met. Charleston will get an incredibly thorough review of all aspects of their training. I'm sure it will be a wake up call for all. It was for us! We were able to receive a tremendous amount of quality training while Tim was here.If they truly want to become a better department this entire team will provide an incredible plan/oppurtunity for the department and city to follow.

Posted by charleytowngirl on August 3, 2007 at 6:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"......A hand-picked group of assistant and battalion chiefs from the Charleston Fire Department has been assigned to assist the group, but Riley stressed that the outside experts will be afforded independence to conduct their work."

Here's the question....a hand picked groups of assistant and battalion chiefs will assist the panel....who the heck hand-picked them? If the chief and the mayor hand-picked them this panel is already compromised. The chief and mayor aren't going to hand pick someone who isn't biased in their opinion of the Chief and the Mayor. Give me a break!

Again I will say....Sounds like the Chief worked his way up to his own level of incompetence. He should never have been the chief from everything I've read about him. He is sooooo way in over his head.

Posted by oldfric07 on August 3, 2007 at 9:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I know Tim. Despite his knowledge this is an investigation that calls for someone a levle above Tim. There's no doubt he will do okay but nine men lost their lives. There are 6 guys who could have been brought in on this with superior quals and experience. Nine brothers deserve the very best.

Posted by east3 on August 3, 2007 at 10:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The Mayor set the first test of this inquiry, and it falls before the election. He said phase I would be a month-long analysis of the department and any recommendations would be immediatley acted upon. The panel might not address personnel issues (Thomas) but I can't imagine the current hose loads and booster attacks can survive this. If they apply NIMS, that will mean training at least and a policy establishing the use of PAR, RIT, AO, SO, rehab, etc. Yes, it would seem a new chief is needed to implement it, but just removing the boosters (as Savannah did) and getting 1-3/4 attack lines (as Savannah has)and 5" supply lines would be a huge step forward. All this is so basic, they could write these recommendations in their sleep. how can they avoid them? An interesting angle is that the panel will remain in place to investigate the fire itself and will be able to see whether these changes are being made or not. Training everyone in new ways could really turn things upside down as it would be hard to go back. I am not going away from this situation, but I want to see this process work - it could have much more direct bearing on CFD operations than the NIOSH report. Yes, thomas should be put on administratvie leave at least. Is there anyone who would make a decent interim chief to start these changes?

Posted by oldfric07 on August 3, 2007 at 10:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Savannah: 14 fire engines, 5 ladder trucks, 3 Battalions, and 15 fire stations.

Charleston: 20 engines, 3 ladders, 4 battalions and 16 stations.

Do the math.


Yes there is someone who can lead the department.

Posted by Wilmot on August 3, 2007 at 10:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It's also important to add that Savannah FD has a safety officer that responds to fires. He overlooks the operations of a fire scene and has direct communication with the incident commander. This officer has no other duties. That information was given to me by that person at an SFD fire station. In the CFD it is written policy that every captain is a safety officer. They perform this duty while they perform all of the other duties they are given on the fire scene.

Posted by nickiegarbeil on August 3, 2007 at 11:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Has anyone heard from the families on how they feel about this internal investigation? I know they probably can't speak publicly for legal reasons, but I was curious if anyone has spoken to any of them?(No names of course)...I was hoping they might have weighed in through their attorney(s) by now...

To follow up on Kerry's comment and others' responses to that post, I think it is obvious that we do NOT need to spend $150,000 to determine that 9 men died...we know that..we buried them in what took nearly a week to complete. What we DO need to spend $150,000 is to determine if there is any fault on the part of who and how this fire was handled. Does the City need to change policy? Is there such a breakdown in command and policy here that there needs to be an overall change in the Department leaders? I there something to be learned from this fire, that can result in saving future lives, both civilian and firefighters? The answers to all of those are worth $150,000. The money is not, nor never should be the issue here. The issue here are nine IRREPLACEABLE men who are no longer with their families...not because they chose a dangerous job, but because they chose a dangerous job and died at the hands of someone else's mistakes in judgment and failure to progress. A rational, educated, man would have KNOWN that mistakes were made, and if the cure isn't known then at least an open mind to change would be. That isn't happening here, his arrogance is too large. Not one ounce of humility is seen in his actions or words to this day.

It can never ever bring those men back, but I surely hope it prevents a repeat of history. We may be a laughing stock(as they claimed in Baltimore), but I will assure you, there isn't a fire department in the world that doesn't speak of this, think of this and step a little lighter in fires because of it. $150k, in the face of losing 9 precious lives is a drop in the bucket...

Posted by oldfric07 on August 4, 2007 at 8:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Wilmot: Good point!

nickiegerbeil: Agreed.

Posted by vesta on August 4, 2007 at 9:24 a.m. (Suggest removal)

If this panel operates like the Cincinnati panel did, there is no "finger pointing" at individuals. They will list the procedures that were followed which were incorrect; they will list the equipment which was used that was incorrect. They will, at the end of the report, list the training that is needed (by groups [i.e. battalion chiefs, ffs]not by individuals [Chief Thomas] to bring the department up to standards; they will list the equipment that is needed to bring the department up to standards; they will list the procedures that need to be followed to bring the department up to standards. They will then itemize the cost of such changes and give a grand total which will be staggering (much more than $150K). It will then be up to the mayor and city council to provide that money for those changes or as much of them as they can. If they didn't do this before nine men had to die, will they do this now? Foresight/hindsight. The changes will probably not touch what the civil lawsuits, etc. will cost the city, but YOU CANNOT REPLACE THESE NINE MEN.

Posted by nickiegarbeil on August 4, 2007 at 1:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)


You are correct...There doesn't NEED to be finger pointing. The emergency traffic tapes and the video footage will show(when released to the public) show who made what calls at the scene. This is not just the breakdown of ONE man, but of many many people over many many years. The responsibility, however, is to rest currently on two, maybe three sets shoulders. We can name it finger pointing if we must, but the reality is, that there are serious system failures, they know it, they KNEW it before, and while the investigators might not tell them they are at fault in so many words, SOMEONE has to take responsibility for the lives of these men.

Where the "blame" will be placed will be in the civil suits. And rightly so...

Posted by vesta on August 4, 2007 at 4:57 p.m. (Suggest removal)

nickie: check your e-mail.

Posted by SavFF574 on August 4, 2007 at 10:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Wilmot, You are correct in the way our (Savannah's) Safety Officer responds. In the event that Safety is tied up on another call, a Safety Officer will be appointed on scene or an additional Batt. Chief or upper level officer will fill that role.

oldfric07 - Just a minor correction, you posted:
Posted by oldfric07 on August 3, 2007 at 10:20 p.m.
Savannah: 14 fire engines, 5 ladder trucks, 3 Battalions, and 15 fire stations.

Actually it's 14 Engines, 5 Ladders, 2 Heavy Rescues, 3 Safety Officers, 3 Operational Battalions - 304 Budgeted Operational Positions (that number fluctuates between 295 - 318 as retirements and temporary positions affect the way the city budgets) and 2 new stations scheduled to open in the next 12 months or so. Typical staffing is 4 on most companies, with 3 an acceptable minimum on about 7 companies. No companies are ever closed for staffing reasons.

The only reason I bring this up, is that Savannah and Charleston are often compared as cities and I'm sure that there will be attempts to compare fire departments as well.

Posted by ssm on August 4, 2007 at 11:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)


What's the status on collective bargaining-I heard you guys had just gotten it or were about to?

Posted by nickiegarbeil on August 5, 2007 at 1:34 a.m. (Suggest removal)


Got it and sent one back. Did you get it?

Posted by SavFF574 on August 5, 2007 at 10:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

We have had bargining rights and a contract since 1972. Our negotiation talks for next years contract have just started.

Posted by rjahopp on August 5, 2007 at 2:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Fyrmnjim: Ya'll shoulda knowed gud ol'boys ain't gonna cotton to yankee smart as_es and "stuff like that." Ya knoe?

Was wrung whid ya? Deese boys is habeen a seryus discushon.

Felt surry fur y'all - nun ub da otha felas kared ta speek at ya'll, an sum ub dem is prubly yankees two.

Did ya seed dat only one of dee investi-gators is a damn NY yankee? Spose usins and da maya didn't wanna be discrimanatin.

Spose it mighta bin ya'lls dang releteevs dat set dem blazes down heah den skeedaddled back to da ice and snoe a whyl back. Shame ya'll ain't stil settin in dat Fort in da harba.

Ya'll cum, ya heer. God love you from a Southern gentleman. : )

Posted by oldfric07 on August 5, 2007 at 4:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

savannah: noted.

I sense changes next week.

Posted by nickiegarbeil on August 5, 2007 at 7:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)


Man have some serious passive aggressive tendencies..What's with all of you disdain? You have to was a stupid comment(one of quite a few) on Rusty's part...

Posted by fyrmnjim on August 5, 2007 at 8:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

rjahopp, Hey, I remember you! Your the bozo, oops I mean misguided individual, that called the SSS fire "an act of God!".

Thanks for noticing me, Love and kisses!

BTW, I took Ebonics as my second language instead of Gullah!! :-D

Posted by vesta on August 6, 2007 at 12:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

nickie: Got it. Glad to hear it wasn't just me thinking that.

Posted by nickiegarbeil on August 6, 2007 at 12:12 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Glad you got it...I'm having problems with the return of pm's...

Oh no, you aren't alone in that thought process...

Posted by Kerry on August 6, 2007 at 8:57 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I believe many of you misunderstood the point I was trying to make. It is not the dollar amount for the investigation that is questionable, it is the fact that there even needs to be "further" investigation to determine that mistakes were made that cost these brave men their lives.

Posted by vesta on August 6, 2007 at 10:02 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Kerry: The point is, it is not the money they ARE spending on reviews, panels or payments to needy deceased ffs families; further it is not the money they WILL spend on lawsuits and compliance to standards. IT IS THE MONEY THEY DID NOT, I REPEAT DID NOT, SPEND ON BEING IN COMPLIANCE (training, equipment, a top notch chief) IN THE FIRST PLACE SO THAT NINE MEN DID NOT HAVE TO DIE.

Posted by localff on August 6, 2007 at 4:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

for the record.....CFD has 16 manned engine companies, 3 manned ladder companies, operating out of 15 stations(buildings), soon to be 16, 5 battions(one of which is covered by the on-duty asst. chief. The current numbering system is verry confusing.

Posted by vesta on August 6, 2007 at 4:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

localff: Have you been issued ID numbers and badges with those numbers to wear on your turn out gear? The purpose of those ID badges are to turn them over to Incident Command as you enter the burning structure and to retrieve from Incident Command as you leave the structure.

Posted by localff on August 6, 2007 at 4:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If you are talking about an accountability system, our dept. uses an ID tag system to check-in on the fire-ground based on job assignment and location.

Posted by vesta on August 6, 2007 at 4:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

localff: are you with the Charleston City Fire Department?

Posted by localff on August 6, 2007 at 5:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

no-an area fd.

Posted by oldfric07 on August 7, 2007 at 10:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Good ideas to help with the equipment.

Posted by vesta on August 7, 2007 at 2:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I did suggest both reflective vests for Incident Command and accountability ID tags for all ffs in my letter to Mayor Riley.

Posted by huntress87 on August 7, 2007 at 3:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

it has been awhile since I have posted, and a lot has come out about the feelings regarding the CCFD Chief and my thoughts have changed from the earlier posts. I have spoken to several of our FF... and am amazed at everything that had been kept from all of the families of our fallen. Some of the extended family members have taken stances we don't agree with.. BUT most are still grieving moreover some of them are still waiting for time to get through a lot of the emotions..

I truly hope that this NEW set of investigations are not going to be as drawn out as the time line above. I am waiting with baited breath along with others, on the elections and if Mayor Joe will step up to the plate and make hard decisions, or will he allow the Chief and his cronies stay until Jan when he can retire with full benifits. I am in agreement that there are 2 good choices out there if Chief Rusty is put on Admin leave until ALL reports are in.

Thank you for listening to my rant and I again announce my original position has changed since speaking with our fellow FF and Capn's.

Posted by chiefeight on August 7, 2007 at 7:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I personally know and have worked all but two of the Investigating Panel.

Of those I know personally, they are honorable, passionate, dedicated, renowned epxerts in their respective fields.

Not everyone on the panel is receiving compensation... my colleague and friend of many years Pete Pirringer is serving without compensation because he is a truly stand-up type of guy!

The mayor will get an excellent report that one can easily speculate will include many items that will radically change the CFD.

NIMS, RIT, Two Out, IMS, IECS, plus nationally recognized certifications for everyone from recruit to chief are just a few things that are on the horizon for CFD if the elected leadership of Charleston does what is right.

Of course doing what is right is going to require the elected leaders of Charleston to have the intenstinal fortitude to spend the money necessary to have a modern fire service.

Posted by vesta on August 7, 2007 at 8:23 p.m. (Suggest removal)

chiefeight: the operative word is "if" the mayor and other elected leaders have the "intestinal fortitude" to spend the money necessary to bring the CFD up to standards. We are all hoping for that, and, in the meantime, praying that another "accident" doesn't occur. We want you all to return home safe at shift's end.

Posted by CodeGeek on August 7, 2007 at 10:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Huntress 87 said

"I am waiting with baited breath along with others," What are you baiting it with?

How about "bated" breath?

Posted by charleytowngirl on August 7, 2007 at 11:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

oh, leave her alone CodeGeek or we're going to start calling you "SpellcheckGeek"! Just kidding. Thanks for the useful information you've been providing on the construction of the Sofa Super Store building.

Posted by huntress87 on August 8, 2007 at 12:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

CODEGEEK, yes sometimes spell check may help, yet with forums such as these, we type and post..

I will address something here, that i was PM's about, do I regret my earlier posts. NO, my initial reactions were true feelings at the time. I stand by my words, but since some of the dust has cleared, and I became open to listening to the FF's I know, my own earlier feelings were tested even more. I beleive that Chief Rusty needs to realize, that he needs to step up and acknowledge things went wrong and true changes will be made...

spending money on items needed, is something I believe we in Charleston have realized our tax dollars are going to be spent on. OUR CCFD need updated equipment, need the proper training, and better leadership. I truly hope AS long as it is used to purchase the required items our CCFD needs, then the adtl taxes won't hurt as bad.

that is why I am waiting with bated breath

Posted by CodeGeek on August 8, 2007 at 3:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Huntress87, no harm or insult intended, I assure you.

I just like to play with puns and malapropisms. (And, no, that's not what you have if you've been on Levitra more than four hours. :o)

Posted by nickiegarbeil on August 9, 2007 at 7:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Don't worry Huntress, he got me too...SEVERAL times...giggle

At it again are you GodeGeek? :o)

Posted by CodeGeek on August 9, 2007 at 10:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Yup. MB seems quiet tonight.

Posted by east3 on August 9, 2007 at 11:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I urge any CFD family members or Charleston citizens who want to see change to email your city council. The addresses are in the city website and copy in the mayor and the clerk (some council members don't list email). They need to hear from you, granted you may only hear back from one of them.I am told the agitation had a lot to do with the mayor appointing this panel instead of investigating it himself with his self-appointed little committee. This panel will be able to make specific recommendations whereas the others focus on general recommendations that can be applied to any department. SCOSHA could find specific fault but apparently noone expects much from them. The mayor and council need to know they will be held to account to implement the recommendations. If there is money to buy and build on the SSS site, there is money (better spent) on what the firefighters really need. New hose, equipment, safety gear, training, etc. would be a better memorial and honor the fallen by saving CFD FF lives in the future.

Posted by vesta on August 10, 2007 at 9:50 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Charleston Residents/Voters: If Mayor Riley does not make some significant/productive changes in the CFD BEFORE November 4, you have the option to vote for Dudley Gregorie. Just because Joe Riley has been in office "since time wuz time" (Chief Thomas), doesn't mean that he knows WHAT he is doing. Do the same for the city council members up for re-election. If Gregorie gets in office and doesn't make signficant/productive changes in the CFD immediately, next time vote him out. On June 18, NINE brave firefighters lost their lives. In the next residential or industrial fire, it could be citizens and firefighters that lose their lives due to lack of training, inadequate equipment and poor fire ground command procedures. In case many forget, ever since our Constitution was enacted it is WE, the citizens, who run the government through our vote. If we vote someone into office, we expect certain responsibilities from him/her. If they cannot perform those responsibilites, we vote them out.

Posted by nickiegarbeil on August 10, 2007 at 11:43 a.m. (Suggest removal)

How can people get in touch with Dudley Gregorie? Does he have an email address? Phone contact?

Posted by oldfric07 on August 10, 2007 at 12:55 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Tapes to be released.

Posted by nickiegarbeil on August 10, 2007 at 1:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Ready Rangers? The truth is getting closer

Posted by vesta on August 10, 2007 at 2:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

nickie: Re: Dudley Gregorie--contact the P&C--they ran an article on him recently and I am certain they have contact information. vesta

Posted by nickiegarbeil on August 10, 2007 at 3:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Thanks, good idea

Posted by huntress87 on August 10, 2007 at 3:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I am not sure if I am ready to hear it.. but of course I won't be able to stay away.. this is going to be very hard for the families and those that were here. Yet it will be the first truth of the aftermath that will allow us to realize the extent of damage done.

Posted by nickiegarbeil on August 10, 2007 at 5:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I feel the same as you, but in my opinion, we owe it to the men to listen to their words, learn from the horrible tragedy and PREVENT it from ever happening again. The important thing is to ensure that NOTHING is covered up in this investigation and that we push for the information to come out in its entirety as investigators release it.

Take care

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