Major tragedies come along occasionally that capture the sympathy of people who live far beyond the immediate area, and affect others who probably didnít know the victims until they perished. The furniture store blaze that killed nine firefighters in Charleston, S.C., overnight Monday will be the target of intense investigation and study in the weeks ahead, but meanwhile, the firefighters who perished are being hailed as heroes.
The assistant fire chief who decided the structure was safe to enter has defended the actions of the department. But the city and South Carolinaís Labor, Licensing and Regulation Department say they plan to investigate whether Charleston fire crews violated safety procedures and whether they had proper training and equipment to respond to the Sofa Super Store blaze, the nationís deadliest firefighting tragedy since Sept. 11.
Itís not so much a matter of decided whether anyone did something that should have been done and assigning blame if it was, although that will develop if itís appropriate. The significant motivation of such a probe is to learn what did go wrong and how it can be avoided or prevented in the future.
Whatever happens with that investigation cannot detract from the bravery of the firefighters who charged forward in an effort to protect lives and property in conditions that would repel others who are untrained and unprepared. ďTheir motto was we fight what people fear,Ē Charlestonís Assistant Chief Larry Garvin said.
Thatís the motto, whether itís stated or not, of every firefighter, whether they are a paid professional who works for a city or other entity, or a volunteer to stands ready to leave work or family to help someone else. Certainly, the expectation is that the skills each firefighter learns and practices combined with the teamwork thatís essential to fighting a fire successfully makes it probably that every one of them will be able to head home at the end of a shift safe and healthy.
But sadly, it doesnít always happen that way.
The hundreds of firefighters who lost their lives while responding to cries for help from the World Trade Towers in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, prompted an outpouring of support and appreciation for the men and women who answer the calls when a fire or other emergency erupts. This lesser tragedy may not result in expressions of thanks to such a large degree, but it is a solemn reminder.
Itís a reminder that we canít be too appreciative of those who stand ready to protect us, whether they be firefighters, law enforcement officers or members of the armed forces.