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Hard questions need to be asked about Charleston’s tragic fire

Laxity, poor judgment and management?

Marc Knapp

How many mistakes does it take to kill 9 men? Answer: Only one.

How many mistakes were made on the tragic evening last week? Probably a lot more than one. We may never know all that transpired. But from my own and others experience, and from what I have been told, it seems there were many mistakes. Here are some of them:

1. The first rule of fighting a fire is never enter a hazardous space alone. One newspaper report stated that one fireman was by himself when trapped in the building. If this is true, why was he alone?

2. The second rule is never enter a space in which you will be subject to a fire on more than one side. I read USA TODAY where a fire captain stated that he saw the smoke above the ceiling tiles but thought that that it was leaking through the walls. Why was a Captain in the building? And was there anybody watching the building from the outside? The building was fully in flames before the roof collapsed. In this case and all others, the Captain should have been outside watching the building. In a conflagration of this nature, a minute can be a critical amount of time. Captains or chiefs should not take chances.

3. The bodies wee found scattered in the debris and none had lifelines connecting them. Another basic rule broken!

4. Either through neglect or training, no Captain or fireman was watching the building from the outside. Somebody should have been keeping track of where the firefighters were and how many were in the building. Nobody was performing this vital fire management task.

5. You always fight a fire from the perimeter and never allow the fire to be anywhere except in front of you. It again raises the question as to who was watching the building and why was there a single man, let alone a number of men in the building?

6. With whole building catching fire, why wasn’t a call made over the radio ordering all the firefighters out. When it was clear the building was on fire, the only action should have been “containment”.

7. The building should have been cleared in the first ten to fifteen minutes, long before the roof collapsed!

This tragic event was preventable in my opinion. The mistakes were numerous and intolerable. I will be shocked if the City’s Fire Department retains its Class 1 ISO rating. Management at the site of the fire was lax to say the least. It calls into question the training of the City’s firefighters and leadership of the department.

Just as background I am a former Navy attack pilot. I have been trained in Navy fire fighting schools and have been in more life threatening situations than I care to remember or even willing to tell my wife of 35 years.

This senseless tragedy will become the epitome of what-not-to-do in this type of firefighting situation - just like the infamous fire on the USS Forrestal in the 1960’s off the coast of Vietnam and the lesson for the US Navy.

I can only hope that the truth is completely disclosed without the usual good-old- boy white washing. Others need to learn from the mistakes.

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