Mayor Joe Riley announced yesterday that the state’s Office of Occupational Safety and Health and the city have reached a settlement on fines and penalties stemming from the June Sofa Super Store fire that killed nine firefighters and brought national attention to Charleston and the antiquated way we fight fires.
OSHA’s original citations amounted to more than $9,000 in fines (now reduced to about $3,000), but the city’s argument against the penalties was hardly about the money and more about the language used in admonishing the fire department. The state office had claimed the city “willfully” neglected industry standards in command protocol at the scene of the fire. Legally, the city couldn’t sit by and leave that accusation of responsibility without comment.
Riley noted the city has worked to turn the department around with an independent review and millions of dollars devoted to new staff, equipment, and procedures. The hope is that the city will become an industry leader in fighting fires.
“The legacy of this fire will be the City of Charleston’s leadership,” he says.
Monday’s announcement wasn’t vindication for the city. The city may have dodged accusations of “willful” culpability, but there successful argument of ignorance (in response to the dangers of a lax command protocol, deficient uniforms and equipment, and an inability to enforce safety requirements) is no badge of honor.