Charleston Fire Department: Transformations and transitions

File Photo (WCIV)

By Natalie

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- When duty calls, Charleston's firefighters are on it, but how they do what they do has dramatically changed in the last five years.

Frank Finley is the interim fire chief and has been with the department since way before the Sofa Super Store fire claimed nine of his firefighters.

"The biggest way we can honor them and after five years is to continue moving forward like we're doing," Interim Chief Finley said.

As the firefighters and community began coping with the loss of nine men, they were thrust into a whirlwind of change. An investigative team hired by the city picked apart the department and the mistakes made in the fire. It included a long list of changes including new uniforms, new equipment, and a higher standard of training.

"It's hard to believe and some of the stuff that's on that list is constantly ongoing forever because it changes," Interim Chief Finley said.

They also created a fire marshal's office led by Mike Julazadeh who says there's still much to be done.

"We still are not at the point we should be for a city this size. And we continue to develop and build out. As with any department, this will be an ongoing process," Julazadeh said.

And while the department has overcome many hurdles and raised the bar, some say there's one major aspect still left undone.

"There was no acknowledgment that the city of Charleston itself was responsible, not for the fire but for the loss of life," Andy Savage said.

Savage is a defense attorney who represented the owner of the Sofa Super Store during the suits brought by the families but most recently he was approached by one of the families.

"They came to me because they wanted to know what was done to protect the City of Charleston firemen from future holocaust that happened that night," Savage said. "For whatever reason, the criminal negligence that took place that night was never followed up."

The investigative file obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request, a case report written in March 2011, said after deciding the investigation didn't yield sufficient evidence for any arrests, the case was closed. Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said in a statement

"The Sofa Super Store fire was exhaustively investigated by OSHA,ATF, NIST, NIOSH, the Fire Review Team, SLED and of course by the City of Charleston Police Department, with the latter having the most significant interest in ensuring that all avenues were examined in order to achieve our collective goal of ensuring justice and preventing further tragedies. All federal and state reviewing agencies determined that no criminal charges were warranted. Additionally SLED was asked by the 9th Circuit Solicitor to re-examine the case, which was done. The final recommendation of SLED was consistent with all others in that criminal charges were not warranted. Over and over again the conclusions were the same. The Charleston Police Department detectives and their counterparts from other entities who investigated this case reported the facts developed during the investigation in a complete and professional manner consistent with all criminal investigations and in the best interest of our community."