CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is forcing changes to the annual remembrance of nine Charleston firefighters who died battling a furniture store fire.
The Charleston 9 Remembrance Ceremony will be held Thursday, the 13th anniversary of the fatal Sofa Super Store fire, at the Charleston 9 Memorial Park on Savannah Highway. The park marks the site where the store stood.
SPECIAL PROGRAM: Charleston 9: Never Forget
But because of the pandemic, the event will be closed to the public and limited only to the personnel conducting the ceremony and providing remarks, Charleston Fire Marshal Mike Julazadeh said.
The program will be live-streamed on the Charleston Fire Department Facebook page at 7 p.m. that evening.
Julazadeh said the Charleston 9 Remembrance Committee carefully monitored the pandemic and considered multiple options for the ceremony to “ensure we honored the sacrifices of our fallen while remaining mindful of the impact of the pandemic in our state and region.”
The fire department will work with family members to provide private periods during the day to visit the site.
Charleston Fire Department personnel will begin a watch at the memorial park’s flagpole starting at midnight on Thursday and continuing for 24 hours. Those on site will maintain proper social distancing, Julazadeh said.
The fire, on June 18, 2007, claimed the lives of nine city firefighters:
- Firefighter Brandon Thompson - Ladder 5
- Engineer Brad Baity - Engine 19
- Capt. Louis Mulkey - Engine 15
- Engineer Mark Kelsey - Ladder 5
- Capt. Mike Benke - Engine 16
- Capt. William Hutchinson - Engine 19
- Firefighter Melvin Champaign - Engine 16
- Asst. Engineer Michael French - Ladder 5
- Firefighter James “Earl” Drayton - Engine 19
Every year on the anniversary of the loss, the fire department pays tribute to the nine firefighters who died battling the fire.
The Charleston 9 Memorial park, located at 1807 Savannah Highway in West Ashley, is the former site of the Sofa Super Store. The city of Charleston purchased the property in 2008 and continues to develop plans to improve the park. A pathway from the parking area leads to a flagpole and plaque at the center of the park where nine markers represent the location of each of the fallen when they died.
The land adjacent to the park will become the home for Charleston Fire Department Station 11.