Charleston, SC - Charleston City Mayor Joe Riley fired back after private e-mails between investigators in the Sofa Super Store fire were made public. Those e-mails don't speak highly of the mayor or the city fire department.
Back in 2007 a team of experts released a more than 200-page report about the way the Sofa Super Store fire was handled, but it's the private conversations behind the report that are creating controversy. Mayor Riley calls the e-mails between the review team back room banter.
"It was equivalent of water cooler chit-chat," Mayor Riley said Tuesday.
What he calls chit-chat is now public. One e-mail, written by the lead investigator Gordon Routley calls Mayor Riley a "master old southern politician," accusing him of "making something ugly smell like a rose."
"I called him yesterday and told him I was very disappointed to see that and he said he apologized and they never intended for that to be public," Riley said.
Riley says the real story is the fire department's immense progress. He says the department has followed the investigators' official recommendations for things like new uniforms, new training, and a new way of thinking when fighting fires.
"They know what they are doing and they've already proven it," Charleston Fire Department Training Chief James Ghi said.
It's Ghi's job to put the fire fighters through the ropes, pushing them all to meet national standards measured by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA). The firefighters are trained for two categories, Firefighters I and II.
Deputy Chief John Tippett explains the categorization, calling it "a standard that says what firefighters should know at different levels of their training and skill set."
"We've come a long way with that and a lot of checks and balances there," Ghi said. "Everyday we're taking a step forward."
"The challenges of that are pretty significant but again I do to the resiliency of the firefighters," Charleston Fire Department Deputy Chief Tippett said.
The department followed the recommendations from the investigative team. Improvements and changes have been made since then, including new uniforms and bunker gear, implementing a new incident command system, using computer model training to simulate calls, and even creating a new officer candidate school for promotional exams.
"We're not just focusing on new people coming in. We're just trying to meet in the middle, bring the new guys up to speed and the incumbents, bring them up to the same level." Ghi said.
While the fire department leaders say it has made significant strides, former Charleston Captain Ricky Koger says the e-mails speak volumes about the past. He spent 20 years working for the department.
"No accountability," Koger said.
Mayor Riley disagrees, discounting the now public and controversial emails he says were never meant to be publicly dissected.
"The progress we've had is sustained and accelerating and that was just a story that will be done tomorrow," Riley said.