Charleston Sofa Super Store Fire - Investigations


About fifty investigators in all have been assigned to the investigation, including the Charleston Police Department, the Charleston County Sheriff's Office, the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) national response team. The ATF confirmed on June 23 that the fire originated in the covered loading dock area situated between the showroom and warehouse buildings, in a pile of trash near an area where employees were known to take smoking breaks. Neither of the destroyed buildings had sprinklers, nor were they required by local codes to have them.

The South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation will investigate the Charleston Fire Department's procedures and training in light of the deaths. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), as always when a firefighter line-of-duty-death occurs, is expected to conduct an independent investigation of the incident. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) assisted NIOSH by reconstructing the fire with a computer simulation.

On Monday, July 2, 2007, Chief Rusty Thomas told the CDC (which oversees NIOSH, the federal department that investigates firefighter fatalities) that his department would not allow federal investigators to interview firefighters about the Sofa Super Store fire. On Tuesday, July 3, 2007, the head of NIOSH wrote to Chief Thomas, asking him to reconsider. On Thursday, July 5, 2007, the city relented when Mayor Joe Riley called the CDC to say that interviews would be allowed. CDC spokesman Fred Blosser, in an interview with said, "This is a developing situation. This morning we were notified that the chief has said that he will grant access to the firefighters. Earlier this week, he had indicated that he was denying access to the firefighters for interviews." Mayor Riley replied that it was all a misunderstanding. He said Chief Thomas was merely trying to minimize the number of interviews of his weary and grieving firefighters, not to block any investigation.

The U.S. Fire Administration will also investigate the fire, to incorporate lessons into the curriculum at the National Fire Academy.

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