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Shortcomings of City Fire Department again highlighted
Post Incident Assessment Report stresses compliance with National and State Standards
Lee Walton

The Phase 1 Routley Report released last week as “…an independent comprehensive review of the Charleston Fire Department and the overall state of fire protection in the City of Charleston, following the tragic Sofa Super Store fire…” hit deep into the soft underbelly of a department caught in a cultural and philosophical time warp while still struggling to cope with the loss of nine of its own. Even after being subjected to intense editing by Mayor J. Pinocchio Riley and his loyal little workshop of wooden-headed elves and fairies, the findings and recommendations set forth in this, the first of a three phase project, leave little doubt about the depth and breadth of serious life safety shortcomings endemic to the CFD.

Given Pinocchio’s violent and irrational reactions to the recent, scathing SC OSHA findings, it is very informative to note that the Routley Report “…looked beyond minimum standards and legally mandated programs and policies … to model programs and national consensus standards … The Review Team paid special attention to the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives produced by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, and the efforts of several other organizations that are committed to the goal of preventing firefighter fatalities and …the need to develop a safety-based organizational culture within fire departments…” The Report stressed that “Firefighter safety must become a primary consideration for all fire department activities…while behaviors that needlessly place firefighters in danger should not be tolerated.”

Foremost of the documents cited and recommended were the National Fire Protection Association Standards. Specifically, “The Charleston Fire Department should use the NFPA 1500 and the documents referenced within it as the foundation of a multi-year plan to address health and safety concerns…. A health and safety program based on the NFPA 1500 would also meet or exceed all of the applicable South Carolina OSHA requirements for fire departments.” One must wonder how Pinocchio’s newest pettifogger, Sandra Senn, will push this camel through the eye of her legal hyperbole needle as she now must argue both sides of the national and state firefighting standards coin before SC OSHA.

Another issue addressed in detail by the Routley Report that is sure to stick in the craws of both Pinocchio and his trusty side-kick Rusty deals with interoperability with surrounding political jurisdictions. “The Review Team noted that there is significant potential for more extensive and structural use of mutual aid and automatic aid with the surrounding fire departments….The strategic planning process should address…standardized equipment and operation procedures…options to be considered should include a regional plan to insure that the closest available units respond to emergency incidents, without regard to jurisdictional boundary lines.” For a better-dead-than-look-bad Fire Chief who has been known to impolitely demand that a first responding fire engine from another jurisdiction pack-up and leave the fire ground, this is truly going to be a bitter serving of crow to swallow. Similarly, Pinocchio will be loath to ask either the St. Andrews or James Island PSD’s for routine mutual aid as he continuously battles each in the Court of Toal to end their very existence.

The City of Charleston now faces years of “…large expenditures and/or extensive training…” to implement the over two hundred recommended changes contained in the Routley Report. The citizens of Charleston are now being told that this lengthy, extensive commitment of tax funded initiatives is necessary to bring the CFD into parody with applicable national fire safety and operational standards. As the voters of Charleston cast their ballots for mayor on November 6th, they will be compelled to ask why our elected leaders allowed the CFD to slip so tragically far behind.

Is this the cost of being ISO 1? If so, then what, pray tell, is a world-class fire department?

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