Last week, Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. said that the City of Charleston would launch its own investigation into the fire at the Sofa Super Store six weeks ago that ended in the deaths of nine municipal firefighters.
Riley commented that the inquiry would be a thorough examination of the response of the Charleston Fire Department to the June 18 blaze and a review of department equipment, practices, and procedures with the intent of improving the CFD's response to future "critical incidents."
Riley said the panel intended to call upon four to six "very distinguished" fire service veterans from across the nation to serve as consultants and would look at tactics, building codes, occupancy levels, firefighting culture within the CFD, and sprinkler systems.
"We've been dealing with a huge tragedy," said Riley, "and this is an opportunity for us to be on the offensive, looking at everything that can be learned from this."
The review panel will consist of Riley, CFD Chief Rusty Thomas, and City of Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen, and it will likely take a couple of months to conduct. The mayor intends to publicize the results.
This is the latest in a series of events in the wake of the Sofa Super Store inferno that I find troubling.
First of all, I was concerned about the dissemination plans for the nearly $2.5 million raised (as of now) for the families of the nine fallen firefighters. It seemed to me that snap decisions were being made without regard to previous sacrifices of other municipal emergency employees and concern for the feelings of their surviving family members.
Simply handing over a chunk of cash to someone whose judgment is necessarily clouded by grief seems to be a textbook situation for people to be taking advantage of by the unscrupulous.
They're out there. Remember the out-of-state roofers after Hugo?
Also, I wasn't crazy about the way that the Charleston Water System was demonized as the main reason why there was no sprinkler system in use in the SSS building.
Let me remind everybody out there that businesses don't have sprinkler systems because the feds don't force businesses to install sprinkler systems. Period.
And now comes news of a review panel headed by Riley and his two chiefs.
The review is a great idea, but I have concerns with the panel membership. Do you think there's any room for open-mindedness and independence here?
I seriously doubt that Fire Chief Rusty Thomas is ever going to be in a position to give an objective perspective to inquiries about his leadership during the fire and in the federal investigations that followed.
Chief Mullen seems like a capable guy, but he was hired by Riley.
I feel sorry for the mayor. He looks like he's been scarred emotionally for life by this tragedy.
I want to make it crystal clear that I'm not accusing anyone of anything, but I feel strongly that the City of Charleston, the fire department, the police department, and the rest of us would be better served by a review panel made up of citizens.
What about Charlie Way? E. E. Fava? Linda Ketner? Cheryll Woods-Flowers? Dick Elliott? Sybil Kalinsky? Rev. Joseph Darby?
The City of Charleston and its environs is a wonderful place for someone to hang their hat and call home. It's also crawling with smart people who've never been afraid to answer the call of making the city a better place to live.
I think we need to respectfully ask them for their service again and let the mayor and the chiefs do their jobs.