Nine firefighters died in the June 18 blaze at the Sofa Super Store.
Photos and video of the scene show several of the smaller red hoses going in the building. Charleston Fire Chief Rusty Thomas said the booster lines were not used to fight the fire, but were pulled to cool down heated equipment and to serve as lifelines to help firefighters find their way out of the building.
Chief Thomas said the booster lines, which allow firefighters to get to small fires more quickly and cause less damage to property than the heavy flow of larger hoses, are pulled at the discretion of captains at a fire.
"I don't want nobody to think that the Charleston Fire Department put boosters on the Sofa Super Store to put fire out at the start of the fire," Chief Thomas said. "We did not."
Some say the smaller hoses, which spray 30 to 60 gallons of water per minute compared with the 150 gallons per minute of the larger attack lines, can put firefighters in danger in a large fire.
Columbia Fire Chief Bradley Anderson said booster lines remain popular among some of his firefighters because of their utility.
"We use them for overhaul at the end of fires to put out hot spots," Chief Anderson said. "We would not use them to attack a fire because of their low flow."
Chief Thomas said he doesn't know when crews pulled the booster lines that night or why the lines were in the building.
Many departments have eliminated the booster lines entirely to avoid the possibility they will be pulled in the wrong situation.
Departments in Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms and Greenville haven't used booster lines in years.
"You wouldn't send soldiers into battle with BB guns," said David Grahl, a district chief with Dayton (Ohio) Fire Department, which phased out booster lines more than 15 years ago. "It puts the firefighters in danger because they have inadequate firepower at hand."
Jamy Cote, a former Charleston firefighter with a two-year degree in fire science and more than 10 years' firefighting experience, said he left the Charleston Fire Department last year after his safety suggestions put him on the outs with his colleagues.
He said it would not have been unusual for Charleston firefighters, who have a reputation for an aggressive style, to have made their initial attack on the sofa store with the smaller booster lines, particularly if the blaze was small when they arrived.
The booster "is usually the first to be pulled off the truck," he said. "Big fire, small fire, it's so ingrained to pull the booster.
"It wasn't necessarily a horrible practice, but it has to be a smart one. If the fire is too hot, then you're not going to have enough water there to do anything."
Chief Thomas said booster lines remain valuable for quick attacks and are used mainly to put out fires in cars and kitchens.
"The booster has its place in the Charleston Fire Department, and it's up to our captains on the truck to pull whatever size hose they think is needed to put the fire out," Chief Thomas said.