WEST ASHLEY, SC (WCSC) - A special ceremony honoring the firefighters who died battling a furniture store fire in 2007 was held on the ninth anniversary of the tragedy at the approximate time the fire began.
The firefighters, who died on June 18, 2007 and came to be known as the Charleston 9, were remembered Saturday at the site where the Sofa Super Store once stood at 1807 Savannah Hwy. at 7 p.m.
The ceremony included a lineup of uniformed personnel, the reading of the names of the fallen and ringing of the bell, followed by bagpipes.
Charleston fire personnel initiated a watch at the flagpole of the memorial site starting at midnight and continuing for the 24 hours of June 18. Members of the community are welcome to visit the site throughout the vigil.
Jacquelin Drayton's father, James Drayton, was one of the firefighters who passed away in the fire.
"I'll always honor my father and his fallen brothers, it's still a tough memory actually to get over," Drayton said. "Being with the other families who are also experiencing the same loss it brings us into one family."
Battalion Chief with the Charleston Fire Department Travis Holseberg says the department holds accountability as a top priority and they've made several changes to the way the department functions since the Sofa Super Store Fire.
"It's a memory that lives with you everyday if you were here," Holseberg said.
People who came out today encourage others to visit the site.
"It will make you feel appreciated that you have firemen that risk their lives to come into your homes, whether it's for the good or for the bad," Sharon Millhouse said.
Millhouse was close family friends with firefighter Louis Mulkey. She says it still feels like the fire happened yesterday.
Four-year-old Benjamin Grubish was at the memorial today. He looks up to the firemen and aspires to become one.
"We're teaching him about loss when it happens and we pay our respects and coming out here was a big deal," Benjamin's dad said.
The nine firefighters who died while working to make sure no employees were trapped inside the building were:
- Engineer Bradford "Brad" Baity, of Engine 19
- Capt. Mike Benke of Engine 16
- Firefighter Melvin Champaign, of Engine 16
- Firefighter James "Earl" Drayton, of Engine 19
- Asst. Engineer Michael French, of Ladder 5
- Capt. William Hutchinson, of Engine 19
- Engineer Mark Kelsey, of Ladder 5
- Capt. Louis Mulkey, of Engine 15
- Firefighter Brandon Thompson, of Ladder 5.
At the time, the fire caused the greatest single loss of firefighters since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.