Firefighters honor Charleston 9, mark 14 years since deadly fire
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The city of Charleston honored the nine firefighters who died 14 years ago Friday battling a West Ashley furniture store fire. The nine city firefighters died on the evening of June 18, 2007, while they fought a fire at the Sofa Super Store on Savannah Highway.
Wayne Mulkey came out to the ceremony with his family, to remember his brother, Louis Mulkey.
He said that while the ceremony never gets easier, he finds comfort in talking to the firefighters.
“It’s always tough, but to be able to come here and talk to the firefighters and to see the new station and comradery, it helps the feeling of grief you always have when it comes to something like this,” Mulkey said.
For fire officials who were working at the department when the fire happened, they say they still re-live it every day.
“When some people see a burning building with smoke coming from a commercial structure, we see the sofa super store,” CFD Battalion Chief David Griffin said. “When some people smell furniture burning, they smell a piece of furniture, we smell 3,000 pieces of furniture. When we see a line of duty death on TV, we see these nine guys.”
Fire Chief Daniel Curia said that they continue to honor the lives of the nine firefighters every day.
Since the fire happened, they have made changes to policies and procedures, to ensure something like that won’t happen again.
“The best thing we can do as an organization is make sure we learn from the past, make a better organization for the future, and make sure we lead with love and give everybody the support they need,” Curia said.
Charleston Fire Department personnel began a 24-hour watch at the flag pole of the Charleston 9 Memorial Park at midnight Friday morning in honor of the fallen:
- 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
A scaled-back version of the city’s annual remembrance ceremony was held at 7 p.m. at the park, which is the former site of the store.
Members of the fire service and the community were invited to attend the ceremony but must adhere to current COVID-19 recommendations, Charleston Fire Marshal Mike Julazadeh said.
Because of current social distancing recommendations, families of the fallen and past members of the Charleston Fire Department were offered priority seating in a tented area.
The remembrance comes as police investigate vandalism of the new fire station. Police say someone fired shots at the fire station, which is adjacent to the memorial park, causing approximately $10,000 damage.
But Charleston Fire Chief Dan Curia said the vandalism would not be a distraction to honoring the Charleston 9.
“What I can tell you is, as disappointed as I am, as angry as I am, what we won’t do is, we will not shift the focus of the Charleston Fire Department away from the nine firefighters who gave their lives at the Sofa Super Store fire. That’s our focus,” he said Thursday at an afternoon news conference.
Investigators are working to review surveillance camera footage in the area.
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