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

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

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 didn't ensure the safety of all firefighters in an emergency situation. In addition, the agency cited the fire department for not requiring its firefighters to wear body protection as well as the proper respiratory equipment.

The store was also cited 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 the an emergency action plan in place for its employees and was fined $32,775 as a result.

According to the report, the nine firefighters became lost as they were battling their way through the blaze. When their air packs ran out of air, they died from smoke inhalation. The tragedy was dubbed by the Associated Press as “the nation's single worst loss of firefighters since the 2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.”

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.

“This new report is significant because it's no longer just firefighters who claim the Charleston Fire Department is run in an unsafe manner,” Yow stated. “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.

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