Charleston Fire Department issues progress report on improvements

By Bruce Smith
The Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. — It will be at least another year before all city fire trucks roll with four firefighters, according to a progress report on improvements at the fire department released Friday.

Requiring four firefighters on every truck was a key safety recommendation following a furniture store blaze the killed nine firefighters in June. It was the single greatest loss of firefighters since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

The report comes after a team of experts made 200 recommendations on everything from protective clothing to training and department administration. Spokesman Mark Ruppel said the department was moving quickly to implement them.

"The report came out Oct. 16 and we're a little over two months. We are very positive about the progress," Ruppel said.

While some changes have already been made, it will be some 18 months before the department can meet the four-man requirement. Currently four firefighters are assigned to city ladder trucks, but vacation and sick time aren't factored in.

"We have to train the firefighters we're hiring. We just can't put them on the truck," Ruppel said.

The report noted the priority recommendations and how the department was working to implement them. For instance, incident command training for all firefighters will be complete by next month and new uniforms will be delivered by March.

The city also agreed last month to a new pay structure to reward firefighters more for overtime, which will encourage more firefighters to work overtime to man the trucks.

The city also plans to hire 12 new firefighters a year for the next three years, and last month the city council approved spending $800,000 to purchase new air packs with more capacity for firefighters.

Investigators have said the Sofa Super Store fire started in a loading dock area where employees took cigarette breaks.

The investigation into the cause of the fire continues, Ruppel said.

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