S.C. OSHA Cites Sofa Super Store, Fire Department; Fines Exceed $42,000

Having completed its investigation into the June 18 Sofa Super Store fire that claimed the lives of nine City of Charleston Fire Department employees, the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, Office of Occupational Safety and Health has assessed more than $42,000 in penalties, including $32,775 against the store owners and $9,325 against the fire department itself.

The store had been converted from a 1960s-era grocery store with a metal truss roof system. S.C. OSHA's report notes that once the blaze started, the fire and smoke spread rapidly, and the firefighters became lost and separated from their hoses. With air in air-packs running out, they could not find their way out, and the firefighters died of smoke inhalation.

Among the citations the store owners face are a willful violation for having the store's exit doors padlocked, plus two serious violations for not having the store's three fire doors in proper working order and not implementing an emergency action plan for employees.

The City of Charleston Fire Department faces a willful violation and three serious violations. "Employer knew or should have known that the command system does not provide for the overall safety of emergency personnel and their activities," S.C. OSHA's report says of the $7,000 willful penalty. The serious violations include failure to develop standard operating procedures to cover the special hazards associated with fighting and attacking a fire involving a metal truss roof, failure to require nine firefighters to wear body protection, and failure to require four of the firefighters to wear self-contained breathing apparatus "at all times" during the fire.

In response to S.C. OSHA's report, Charleston Firefighters Association Local 61 President Roger Yow issued a statement, calling it "a clarion call for change" that reiterates the failed leadership of Charleston Fire Department Chief Rusty Thomas. "State OSHA now says that all of Chief Thomas's policies need to be thrown out the window and CFD needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. Five other fire departments were investigated and not one was found in violation of state law," Yow said. "The real shame is that it took the deaths of nine good men for anyone to start listening to us about how poor Chief Thomas's stewardship truly has been."

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