Chief John Tippett: Charleston Fire Department

June 6, 2017: John Tippett is currently the Interim Fire Chief and previously served as the Deputy Chief of Operations. Chief Tippett came to Charleston shortly after the Sofa Super Store fire from Washington D.C. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Fire Science and Master’s in Fire Service Operations.

Chief Tippett gave a brief history of the Charleston Fire Department. Earliest record is from 1784 with the city’s first hand to hand fire department established. By 1870 there were 12 volunteer companies and “ward” engineers who oversaw various parts of the city. This grew to 17 stations and 1,100 volunteers in 1881. In 1882 the total number decreased to 100 employees with establishment of career department. Today the department has 16 stations with 2 under construction. They have 4 battalion teams, hazmat truck and fire boat. 84 members on duty every day serving the peninsula, Daniel Island, West Ashley, and James/Johns Island. Other facilities include a training department on Milford St., Fleet office also on Milford St. with 3 mechanics, Hazmat and marine based teams, and an Honor Guard. The department also has a fire investigations group.

In 2007 the department’s budget was $14.9M and by 2017 this grew to $31.6M. In 2016 they had 23,000 calls which represented a 16% increase in calls from the prior year. Mostly these calls were for a medical response. The department’s casualties are very low compared to rest of the country.

There were approximately 200 recommendations made after the sofa super store fire, primarily dealing with safety, incident management systems, modernizing training and tactics, etc. The major accomplishments since have included the following:

Developed multi year training plan

Formalized promotion testing

Adoption/enforcement of National fire codes

Implemented aggressive and effective inspections/enforcement from within the department

Ensure plans examiners are properly trained and credentialed

Model codes for sprinkler systems

Comprehensive fire risk mgt plans

Liaison with water system

Major achievements include:

  • Special ops groups state & nationally recognized
  • ISO 1 in June 2015. Only one of 200 out of all departments in US
  • Increased focus on safety
  • Consistency across all 3 shifts
  • Command from the Car
  • Brought down walls between surrounding agencies
  • Established consistency between auto-aid departments, unified command process and signals,
  • Closest Companies Rule

Fire’s now served by team of response including 1 leader, 1 rescue, 4 engine companies (fire attack, water, rapid intervention, exposure ) 3 hose lines on any fire. He stated the department’s approach now is to bring more apparatus to a fire than needed and release some if not required rather than trying to call more in and have fire grow.

The upcoming commemorative service to honor those killed in the Sofa Super Store Fire will commemorate the 10th anniversary with a service to recognize the families who lost loved ones. They are focusing this years service on the families. The public is invited to attend June 18.                                 

— Steve Coe, Keyway Committee