Firefighters rush into a burning commercial building with too-small hoses and insufficient water. The commander can’t reach them because the captain forgot his radio. Backup crews aren’t sure where to go or what to do. Confusion reigns as the building’s truss roof collapses in an explosion of flames.
This reads like the playbook from the deadly Sofa Super Store fire in June 2007, but it’s not. These dangerous missteps occurred at a March 1 blaze on Daniel Island, according to an internal report obtained by The Post and Courier.
Photo by Andy Paras
This blaze at an office building on Daniel Island on March 1 of this year has led to the demotion of a Charleston fire captain and controversy within the ranks.
They occurred despite nearly four years of intensive and expensive efforts to instill a culture of safety in the Charleston Fire Department.
What’s more, the commander in charge that day — a man repeatedly faulted in the in-house review of the blaze — was recently promoted to a top position in the department. And that’s causing some dissension in the ranks.
City fire officials stand behind their promotion of Troy Williams to battalion chief, and they said the portion of the draft report that leaked to the newspaper is incomplete, unfair, unofficial and riddled with inaccuracies.
Fire Chief Thomas Carr acknowledged problems at the fire, which gutted a two-story office building at 899 Island Park Drive. That’s why he authorized a six-member committee of firefighters to conduct what’s known as a critical incident review. But Carr said he rejected the resulting draft report when it landed on his desk six weeks ago because it had errors and failed to live up to its intended purpose, which is to be an educational tool, not an instrument for blame.
The 12-page portion obtained by the The Post Courier newspaper describes “major” violations of policy and assigns blame for those mistakes. It raises questions about the handling of the blaze, the effectiveness of the training firefighters have received and the integrity of the promotion process.
It also highlights the continuing conflict between the department’s hard-charging past and its new, risk-sensitive methods.