Charleston firefighter inspires convention, encourages "culture change" to save lives

Published: Feb. 6, 2015 at 6:55 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 6, 2015 at 7:58 PM EST
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CONCORD, N.C. (WBTV) - A horrible incident that he experienced first hand has helped Dr. David Griffin to begin a new journey to teach firefighters and others how to create a culture change, that in some cases will literally be a lifesaver.

Griffin is a Captain with the Charleston Fire Department, but he is also a best selling author and a highly sought after motivational speaker.

Friday he held members of the North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs in rapt attention at their annual convention at the Embassy Suites in Concord.Griffin's presentation focuses on the deadly fire that took place in Charleston, SC, on June 18, 2007.

A fire that started with a discarded cigarette on a loading dock at the Sofa Super Store blazed out of control and before it was extinguished, nine firefighters had lost their lives.Now Griffin uses his personal experience as well as video and pictures of that fire, along with the chilling audio recording of the radio traffic between firefighters as they tried to rescue those who were trapped inside.

"I wanted people to understand what really happened that day and the culture that was the real part of it," Griffin told WBTV. "It's what you do to prepare yourself for your job every single day."Griffin says he is on a mission to change that culture where it needs to be changed, and uses the example of his own fire department.

A report released after the Charleston fire found several problems with the way the fire was handled, and those problems contributed to the disaster that unfolded. Griffin says his challenge is make firefighters and administrators question their own culture and consider whether or not they are using "old school" methods in a "new school" environment.

"A lot of times people take it the wrong way, but old school means you just operate a different method, whereas now, the new school, everything is new," Griffin added. "We have new school tactics to fight the new school environment that we have."

Griffin also talks about fighting his own personal demons after the loss of nine friends. He was involved in drugs and alcohol, and was a fierce competitor in mixed martial arts. He told the crowd on Friday that many of those pursuits were simply ways to run from the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that was affecting his life, and he encouraged the fire chiefs to understand what goes on with firefighters when they face especially upsetting situations.That too, Griffin says, is about changing the culture.

"The takeaway is the culture is so important in the organization, everything they do, they say, when they're leading those new firefighters, if they're not giving them the correct information spreading that culture of innovation and proactivity then things are going to continue to happen that way," Griffin added.

Following his talk, Griffin signed copies of his book In Honor Of The Charleston Nine, A Study Of Change Following Tragedy, for a long line of firefighters. Many of them just wanted a few words with him to tell him how much they appreciate his words.

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