Charleston Fire Department now a model of 'constant change'

By Stacy

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Capt. Laval Green has been responding to calls for the Charleston Fire Department for 15 years. He experienced one of its darkest moments in the aftermath of the Sofa Super Store fire in 2007.

"This fire department has transformed literally overnight," Green said.

Some of the department's practices had dated back to the 1960s, he said, but there was a new emphasis on employee training, technology in the trucks and the tools available for them to use immediately after the fire.

The department bought new hoses for the trucks; one went from 2.5 to 5 inches in diameter.

"You can see it doubled and it's a big difference," Green said.

The increase in size gave them more water and higher pressure.

They also upgraded from using map books to laptops with GPS in the trucks.

He said the department also immediately purchased air packs that a firefighter can use to issue a May Day if necessary. Then he or she can activate the alarm to be found.

Former Chief Thomas Carr was the brains behind a lot of the changes. Charleston officials recruited him from Maryland to strengthen the department. Carr brought John Tippett with him.

"He had the innate ability to see positives in things that didn't always have a positive look to them," said Tippett, the chief deputy of operations for the department.

Tippett said Carr made a lot of changes. He wanted to give firefighters better training and standardize firefighting practices. They were all efforts to prevent another tragedy.

It's an attitude that permeates the department, reinforced by new chief Karen Brack.

"We're in a process of constant change here," Brack said.

"We all made a promise that we were going to see this thing through, make sure what happened that night would never happen again," Green said.

He said it was the best way to pay tribute to the Charleston 9.

The department also now uses four-person crews, rather than three. Officials said having an extra set of hands and eyes makes a big difference.