Fire Chief: More Changes Than Any Department in Nation

Published: Aug. 5, 2015 at 11:11 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 6, 2015 at 11:39 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The City of Charleston Fire Department has been recommended for accreditation, the highest standard for a fire department in the country.

Karl Ristow of the Commission on Fire Accreditation confirmed the commission will make a final decision later this month.

The Charleston Fire Department was heavily criticized for how it handled the Sofa Super Store fire in 2007. Nine firefighters were killed fighting a fire at the West Ashley location of the furniture store.

The department has made many changes since that time.

Ristow said, "They have a great story, and it means a lot to the community."

Fire Chief Karen Brack said she is cautiously optimistic about the accreditation.

"We're very hopeful," she stated.

The department has been working toward accreditation since it fully committed to the process in January of 2013, according to Chief Brack.

"We are a much better organization today than we were two years ago when we committed to this process," she said.

Ristow says only 206 departments in the country have earned accreditation, although more than 13,000 have sought the designation. He stated the peer review team came to Charleston for their assessment back in June.

Mount Pleasant and North Charleston Fire Departments have earned accreditation, and Chief Brack reported both departments have helped the City of Charleston with the process.

"Think of it as, we've had partners," the chief explained, "It's not like a competition... We know it makes all of us better." She continued, "We are all looking at the same standards and the same 'best practices.' They are not competitive issues at all."

Praising her department, Chief Brack said, "I think that this organization has done a remarkable job, and we have probably made more changes in the past seven years than any department in the nation."

If the Commission approves the accreditation, the City of Charleston Fire Department will join an elite group of fire departments, meeting the highest standards in the industry.

The other accredited fire departments in South Carolina include Hilton Head Island, Joint Base Charleston, North Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Parris Island, Shaw Air Force Base and Spartanburg.

Earlier this summer, the Charleston Fire Department was awarded a Class 1 rating by the insurance Services Office (ISO), the highest rating possible achieved by about 90 fire departments in the nation. The department had previously been a Class 3.

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