S.C. OSHA Fines Fire Department, Furniture Store Over Fatal Fire

The South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, Office of Occupational Safety and Health (S.C. OSHA) is levying fines against the Charleston, S.C.-based Sofa Super Store and thecCity of Charleston Fire Department for violating firefighter safety procedures after a deadly June 13 fire engulfed the store and killed nine firefighters.

According to OSHA's accident investigation summary, as the nine firefighters were battling their way through the rapidly spreading blaze, they became lost and were separated from their water hoses. The air from their air packs ran out, and as a result, they died from smoke inhalation. The Associated Press called the disaster “the nation's single worst loss of firefighters since the 2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.”

According to an OSHA investigation report released on Sept. 20, the Charleston Fire Department was fined $9,325, for four violations, one of which was a willful violation for having a flawed command system that did not ensure the safety of all firefighters in an emergency situation.

The three serious violations received by the department were for not requiring its firefighters to wear body protection as well as the proper respiratory equipment. In addition, OSHA officials pointed out that the department didn't develop standard operating procedures to “cover the special hazards associated with fighting and attacking a fire on a metal truss roof,” which officials determined contributed to the rapid spread of the fire and smoke.

The store was cited by OSHA for padlocking the exit doors on the front and the rear of the establishment and for not having the doors located between two showrooms in proper working order. In addition, the store also did not have an emergency action plan in place for its employees. S. C. OSHA fined the store $32,775.

According to OSHA's accident investigation summary, as the nine firefighters were battling their way through the rapidly spreading blaze, they became lost and were separated from their water hoses. The air from their air packs ran out, and as a result, they died from smoke inhalation. The Associated Press called the disaster “the nation's single worst loss of firefighters since the 2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.”

Yow: Charleston Fire Chief Should Be Ousted

Roger Yow, president of the Charleston Firefighters Association Local 61, criticized Charleston Fire Chief Rusty Thomas for not enforcing emergency response standards normally used by fire departments across the country, as well as Charleston Mayor Joe Riley for allowing such violations to continue.

Calling the report "a clarion for change,” Yow added the report is significant because "it’s no longer just fire fighters who claim the Charleston Fire Department is run in an unsafe manner. Now state officials also are condemning Chief Rusty Thomas’s failed leadership, and Mayor Riley’s blind allegiance to the chief is as unsafe as it is indefensible."

At a press conference held on Sept. 20, Mayor Riley told reporters that city will be challenging the fines and accused OSHA of wrongly punishing the city.

An email sent to the Sofa Super Store for comment was not returned. On its Web site, the store owners expressed sympathy, stating that their “thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the heroic firefighters who lost their lives.”

The owners also asked that people consider donating to the Charleston Nine Scholarship Endowment, which awards scholarships annually to the families of first responders.

TAGS: Archive OSHA
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