CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Soft- spoken and loving. A gentle giant. Those are the words Heather Baity uses to describe her husband, Brad Baity, who died in the Super Sofa Store fire in 2007.
Over the last ten years, Heather has focused on grieving privately and taking care of their two young children.
In a statement, the Baity family says they "would like to express their gratitude to the many people and organizations that have shown them so much support and compassion throughout the years."
Heather hopes Brad is remembered for his fire service both in Charleston and with the military.
Baity was born in 1969 to James and Dorothy Baity in Mocksville, North Carolina. He had two older siblings, Jimmy and Sharon. Brad was the baby of the family. In family pictures, it's clear that even at a young age he tended to have a serious look, sometimes a slight smile.
It was a look that suited a man known for his dry humor and pranks around the fire department.
"Brad had that dry humor to make you laugh," Nathan Grimes said. "He could tell a joke you would think is not funny- and then you'd be like, I get it! And it would make you laugh. He was one of those people that always had a good joke on him. Never had a mean bone in his body."
Grimes met Baity behind the scenes, but not at fire scenes. They were both members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, IATSE 333, the local stagehands union.
"A lot of these firemen, it was extra side work for them. We'd work the Broadway shows, set up the lights and sound and rigging," Grimes said.
The work was perfect for firefighters including Capt. Mike Benke, who was in the stagehand union for a while, too. Firefighter James Earl Drayton, who also died in the fire, was also a member. Drayton and Baity were usually side by side at Station 19 and backstage. They were close friends. The two men were found next to each other after the fire.
"They were probably going after each other to help out. That's just the way those two guys were," Grimes said. He and other members of IATSE 333 later volunteered to set up for the Charleston 9. They helped with lighting, sound and stage equipment for the funerals and for the big memorial at the Coliseum.
Brad Baity's fire service started with the U.S. Marine Corps Crash Crew Rescue Aircraft Firefighting. Heather says they met during Brad's first year in the Marine Corps and married in 1993. They lived in Jacksonville, North Carolina for three years and in Okinawa, Japan for one year.
When they returned to the U.S., the Baitys settled in Charleston.
"In 1997, Brad joined the James Island Fire Department before being hired onto the Charleston Fire Department in September of 1998. Brad moved quickly through the ranks to engineer in the CFD. His friends at the station recognized that Brad was not a man of many words' but a man of action. He also received the reputation as the prankster of the crew and playing many jokes with a straight face," Heather said.
In addition to stagehand work, Brad did construction, painting and electrical work on his days off.
Heather shared pictures that document Brad's life. The ones in which he has the biggest smile are those where he's holding his children. They're now teenagers.
Through their mom, Mariah and Noah shared memories of their dad. "He was the type of father who just got down and played on the floor with his kids and laughed. Mariah and Noah remember their father always playing basketball and soccer with them in the back yard. Now teenagers, his children understand the exceptional human being their father was and the sacrifices he made."
"I'm proud of them," Grimes said of the Charleston 9. "They rushed right in. They didn't hesitate, they didn't ask, they just went and did their job. They did what they loved doing. They died doing what they loved doing."
"Always loving' supportive' and helpful in every way' Brad was my true soulmate and was totally dedicated to his family," Heather said. "As his wife of nearly fourteen years' it is the quiet, soul-bearing talks and the way he would always calm me down and give me peace that I will hold close to my heart. No words can express how intently Brad is missed by his family and friends."
Brad's family says they could count on him and trust him no matter what the situation.
"Brad was truly a man after God's own heart always putting others before himself," Heather said.
In addition, the Baity family wrote:
"It has been our prayer that the sacrifice of Brad's life and the lives of the other eight men has opened the way for safety improvements within all fire departments across the country which has ultimately saved many firemen's lives. As we remember Brad and the other men this year, we are always humbled by the outpouring of love and deep compassion from our local community and those from across the nation. Thank you for your continued support in helping us never forget the Charleston 9."