In this morning’s P&C, Charleston Fire Chief Rusty Thomas didn’t take too kindly to folks suggesting things could have been done differently at the site of the Sofa Super Store fire that killed nine firefighters last week.
Roger Yow, president of the Charleston Firefighters Association, said Wednesday that the department needed to implement federally recommended standards on chain-of-command at fire sites. While the local policy allows the person in charge to actively battle the blaze, the recommendation is that the person in charge stay behind to coordinate a broader look at the fire situation.
Thomas told the paper those changes weren’t going to happen.
“Our firefighting techniques are not going to change in the city of Charleston Fire Department,” he said.
“We’re safe, we’ve got the best equipment, we’ve got the best people and that’s the way we fight fires,” he said.
Considering that the very hush-hush investigation of the fire is ongoing, it was surprising that the chief would take such a dedicated stance that no changes were necessary. Mayor Joe Riley has all but promised that lessons will be learned from this fire. And the simple fact that nine guys walked in and didn’t come out would suggest that there’s something that could be done next time to protect these guys.
Come this afternoon, the chief had changed his tune — a little.
“If we had to do it again, our guys would do it the same way,” the chief said, though noting that if the reports show tweaks are necessary, they’ll be implemented.
“If we can make improvements to make our department better, that’s what we’ll do,” he said.
Thomas noted that he hasn’t been against change in the past, pointing to lessons he’s learned from 9/11 and elsewhere regarding firefighter protection and communication. But with a incident command procedure he considers a model for other departments, the unions recommended changes aren’t likely to come without arm twisting and the aid of an agency with a little more clout.
Mayor Riley, who has hardly let an opportunity in front of the podium pass without praising Thomas, once again said Thursday that his support is behind the chief 100 percent.
“I’ve never seen a better example of leadership than Chief Thomas that night,’ he said. “We’ve got the best chief and the best department.”