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The Charleston Sofa Super Store Fire

A fire that occurred on June 18, 2007, in Charleston, South Carolina, was one of the most tragic events that lead to mass deaths of firefighters in the United States. Nine people died that day; they were all experienced firefighters between the ages of 27 and 56. Even though several people were evacuated from the burning building, the roof collapsed while there were about 20 firefighters inside. People standing near the building were covered with ash. As usually happens in such cases, many adverse factors have created this situation. They include violations in the construction of the building, poor organization of fire extinguishing work, lack of personnel and oversights in their preparation, as well as problems with firefighting equipment. Researchers note that “because of suppression actions taken by one agency, the roof of the building began to collapse” (Morris, 2015, p.5). Therefore, this experience can certainly serve as an example of poor construction work and the importance of fire-planning as good communication between firefighting teams.

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First of all, it should be taken into account that fighting a fire in a large occupancy significantly differs from that of a single-family or multi-family dwelling. The reason for that is the big residence means more risks and damages. In addition, fighting a fire in such a place would take more equipment and manpower, sometimes even several teams, which requires a complex and efficient communication system. As Hanifen (2015) states, “not utilizing the incident command system for all types of events can decrease the safety of firefighting personnel and contribute to the death of nine firefighters” (p. 33). In the case of the Charleston Sofa Super Store Fire, the fire department did not manage to use their networks to ensure contact between two teams.

As for the construction of the building, the store was not fire-planned. For instance, no automatic fire extinguishing systems were installed in the storage room where the fire was believed to have started. Furthermore, even though such buildings require sprinkles, none of the destroyed structures had them installed. For this reason, the fire could not be stopped until the teams of firefighters came. The store staff also improperly kept flammable liquids and discarded furniture, which is why the fire spread at a rapid pace. In addition, the firefighters were trapped under a steel truss roof, which is believed to be especially dangerous. Therefore, many people involved in the accident were unable to escape.

Another significant problem that caused so many deaths is the culture of the local fire department. As researchers declare, it “promoted aggressive, offensive tactics that exposed firefighters to excessive and avoidable risks and failed to apply basic firefighter safety practices” (McGrattan & Miles, 2016, p. 1041). The staff was not appropriately trained in basic safety practices. Therefore, it would be safe to assume that proper preparation, as well as the upgraded equipment, could have prevented the loss of life.

In conclusion, it would appear that several different factors contributed to the deaths in the Charleston Sofa Super Store Fire. They include construction mistakes, the lack of sprinkles, the improper storage of flammable materials, and poor teamwork. While this event remains a tragedy for many families who have lost their close ones, the mistakes from this incident provide a motive to implement new construction standards.

References

Hanifen, R. W. (2015). Comparing Collaboration between the Fire Department and Emergency Management Agency to the Incident Command System. Dissertation. Northcentral University.

McGrattan, K., & Miles, S. (2016). Modeling fires using computational fluid dynamics (CFD). In SFPE Handbook of Fire Protection Engineering (pp. 1034-1065). Springer, New York, NY.

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Morris, J. T. (2015). The technology acceptance model and the communications interoperability problem: A correlational study (Doctoral dissertation, Capella University).

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