The city of Charleston's decision to invite an outside team of firefighting professionals to examine the city's fire department and its handling of the Sofa Super Store blaze may help prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley appointed a six-member Post Incident Assessment and Enhancement Review Team, which will be led by J. Gordon Routley, a retired fire chief from Shreveport, La. The team is expected to begin its work this week.
The June 18 fire at the Sofa Super Store on U.S. 17 that killed nine Charleston firefighters was the worst single loss of firefighters' lives in the nation since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Local and state police agencies and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives are investigating the fire. Federal officials have traced its origins to a loading dock but have not released a cause.
Even when the source of the fire is made public, however, much will remain to investigate. The team will analyze procedures carried out by the department from the time the alarm was called in. It also will draft a long-range plan that the department can use as a blueprint for the future.
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Radio transmissions during the fire, which were made public last week, offer a harrowing picture of firefighters lost in the smoke and darkness of the blazing showroom. We hope the investigative team is able to unravel the chaotic last minutes of the firefighters and offer a clearer picture as to what happened and how they died.
Thankfully, Mayor Riley has given the team complete access to fire department officials and any information related to the fire. Team leader Routley said he wanted to ensure that the investigation would be "thorough and independent and out in the open."
Riley said the city plans to buy the Sofa Super Store property and turn it into a memorial. The best memorial, however, would be a thorough investigation of what went wrong that might prevent the same mistakes from being made again, and save lives.
Committee studying Charleston fire may provide information that will prevent future tragedies.
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