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J. Pinocchio Riley – The Prince of Palter
Lee Walton

Given the latest revelations contained in the October 7th Palter & Chatter front page story, “Firefighters lacked water”, the citizens of Charleston must now question the Mayor’s mental capacity to adequately evaluate and rationally respond to the complex combination of leadership errors and omissions that culminated in the tragedy of June 18th and caused the unnecessary death of nine brave firefighters. The Mayor’s actions demonstrated thus far are not those expected of a competent, rational and reasonable person faced with the same daunting challenges.

Instead, Pinocchio’s responses are manifested in a petty Madison Avenue public relations campaign to shamelessly avoid accountability, distort facts, and continuously defend the blatant incompetence of a fire chief lacking even basic leadership skills and organizational abilities. Any other Mayor, if faced with the facts as they were known or suspected on the morning of June 19th would have, at an absolute minimum, placed their fire chief on immediate administrative leave, until the whole tragic debacle could be sorted out and corrected. If Rusty Thomas had a shred of personal character or integrity, he would resign immediately.

Mayor J. Pinocchio Riley’s most recent attempt to intimidate SC OSHA by having his newest pettifogger shriek legal hyperbole to the press is another clear demonstration of his ruthless demeanor and inability to confront the truth. Pettifogger Sandra Senn’s latest attempt to shoot the messenger by accusing the state’s top work-place safety agency of “ playing a shell game with the facts” is the latest in Pinocchio’s string of thinly veiled attempts to defend the indefensible. It also proves again that old cliché about ambulance chasing attorneys, except this time it’s fire trucks. The tragic consequences of this costly attempt by a litigation-happy Pinocchio and his newest brace of expensive inquisitors will not purchase one fire-proof uniform, one hour of badly needed leadership instruction or one foot of four inch diameter supply hose.

If there is a fortunate consequence to the Sofa Super Store tragedy, it would be that it did not occur in the lower peninsula of Charleston at a densely packed, older multi-story hotel full of tourist, a college dormitory full of students, or one of the many closely built, high-rise hospital buildings. Adding the element of lower water pressures carried in the century old lead-joint, brittle cast-iron water mains downtown to the “combination of a lot of errors” which occurred on June 18th would likely have resulted in a tragic loss of life of world-class proportions.

Many may remember that Charleston suffered a previous furniture store fire, albeit without loss of life, when the Southeastern Galleries store on Meeting Street across from 2nd Presbyterian Church burned to a smoldering shell a few decades ago. That building and all its contents were a total loss partly due to a lack of adequate water pressure and other water supply problems that plagued the CFD’s initial efforts to contain that fire before it got out of hand. Then there was the total loss of the Historic Charleston Museum Building at the corner of Calhoun and Rutledge Avenue; fortunately it was vacant and unoccupied at the time. The City and CFD luckily ducked bullets both times, but the current Administration apparently didn’t learn from either of these conflagrations. Not surprisingly, the reasons for the loss of both of these large, structurally sound buildings were never adequately explained. Downtown Charleston may not be so lucky next time unless sweeping changes occur quickly to properly lead, equip and train the CFD.

The consequences of hiring a crony and political hack, as a fire chief, will haunt Riley for the rest of his life – and they should. Any good he’s done during the past thirty-two years will be lost to history – the unnecessary loss of nine brave men on his watch will be his legacy.