CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston Fire Department held the annual remembrance ceremony for the Charleston 9. Thirteen years ago, the nine firefighters died while battling a fire at a West Ashley furniture store.
On Thursday, the department honored the lives of Brandon Thompson, Brad Baity, Louis Mulkey, Mark Kelsey, Mike Benke, William Hutchinson, Melvin Champaign, Michael French, and James “Earl” Drayton.
The department had to make changes to the annual ceremony because of the coronavirus pandemic.
It was closed off to the general public with limited participation to personnel conducting the ceremony and some family members. The event was also live streamed on the Charleston Fire Department’s Facebook page.
“We had to change it this year because of COVID-19 protocols, so obviously we’re not going to have large gatherings,” CFD Battalion Chief David Griffin said. ”We thought it was just going to be very hard to have a regular ceremony and allow everyone to gather as normal when most people can’t do that, so we wanted to set the example.”
Even with a smaller event, the department still felt it was important to take the time to recognize these men and come together as a fire department.
“There’s a business side to what we do, there’s a dangerous side to what we do, but when we’re all together we want to make sure everything we do is under the umbrella of love,” Fire Chief Dan Curia said.
For family members attending the ceremony, they say it doesn't get easier but you learn to cope with it.
Kim Benke lost her husband, Capt. Mike Benke that day. She brought her granddaughter to the ceremony.
She says her daughter, Taylor, does a good job at keeping Benke alive.
“Taylor does a good job at keeping him alive,” Benke said.”They call him ‘Cappy’ and they kind of talk about him. They talk about things he would’ve done with her and things she would’ve liked that he did. We’re still sad and we miss him. Life does go on and you get through it, but you still feel that part that you left behind.”