A federal draft report on the mistakes made in the fire at a Charleston, S.C. furniture store that led to the deaths of nine firefighters has renewed calls for the city’s fire chief to step down. But the mayor maintains there is no need for changes in leadership.
The report released May 8 by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health blamed a lack of water for helping the June 18, 2007, blaze at the Sofa Super Store grow into an inferno and provided family members and fellow firefighters with some of the most complete descriptions of what their loved ones endured.
“I felt a certain helplessness as I glimpsed through the eyes of those courageous firefighters, inside that inferno, without the proper equipment, without water and without a command structure watching their backs, protecting them,” International Association of Fire Fighters general president Harold Schaitberger told The (Charleston) Post and Courier.
Jean Dangerfield said she stayed up to read the report about the blaze that killed her brother Michael French, Ladder Co. 5 assistant engineer. She said it was difficult to read about how he was caught in the building unable to get water to fight the flames. But she said the report is still not complete.
“We already know what happened at the end. We’re living with that every day,” Dangerfield said. “We need to know what started this.”
An official cause of the fire has not been released.
Employees at the store have said workers took smoke breaks near a loading dock that connected the showroom and warehouse, and the federal report does say that 28 one-gallon cans of “extremely flammable solvents” were found inside the loading dock.
Ann Mulkey is among those calling for changes in leadership at the Charleston Fire Department.
“Why? Why were they ever let in there? For what? A bunch of furniture,” said Mulkey, mother of Engine 15 Capt. Louis Mulkey. “They should have let it burn to the ground.”
Chief Rusty Thomas attended a May 9 news conference with Mayor Joe Riley, but didn’t comment on the report except to clarify one point concerning the use of small hose lines during the fire.
Riley admitted mistakes were made, but said Thomas is “a great leader.”
“I have confidence in (Thomas), and we will move forward with him as the leader,” the mayor said. Riley said trying to pinpoint a scapegoat is a natural reaction, but “that’s the easy way out and the wrong way out.”
Charleston Fire Capt. Jamie Greene said the mayor’s comments shows that all the reports on the fire are “an inconvenient truth that he doesn’t want to address.”
Michael Parrotta, president of the union-affiliated South Carolina Professional Firefighters Association, said the report gives the mayor the evidence he needs that changes should be made.
“In order for the city of Charleston to get over this, Mayor Riley has to put friendship aside and do what’s best for the citizens and visitors and their safety,” Parrotta said. “Chief Thomas needs to go. It ‘s time for his retirement.”
Information from: The Post and Courier,