CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The memories are still fresh for Ann Mulkey as she flips through a photo album of her son.
The 34-year-old Louis Mulkey smiles back in the pictures. His happiness and love for life are frozen on the pages and suspended in time.
Captain Louis Mulkey of the Charleston Fire Department died ten years ago, doing what he loved. He spent 11 1/2 years fighting fires and was one of nine firefighters who died in the Sofa Superstore fire on June 18, 2007.
"I talked to him before he was called to the fire," Ann Mulkey said. "I said 'Are you going to come home in the morning or are you going to the school?' and he said 'Nope, I'm coming home and I'll see you in the morning.' Those were his last words to me."
That night, Ann briefly watched the television coverage of the fire. Believing she'd seen Louis standing on the sidewalk outside the building, she was convinced her son was OK.
"I was in denial right up until 1:00 that morning when they came in and told us they'd passed away," Mulkey said. "I was in total denial."
When Louis Mulkey died the Charleston Fire Department's Engine 15 lost a leader. Summerville High School lost a leader as well. Mulkey graduated from the school in 1991 and returned in 2002 to work as an assistant coach for basketball and football.
Mulkey encouraged the students to succeed on the field in sports and achieve their potential in the classroom. He would follow kids to make sure they were in class or bring a desk to practice to make sure they knew school work came first.
"(He) loved every minute of being here and coaching them," Mulkey said. "He would not go back to college because he was torn. He couldn't leave his job at the fire department. He couldn't do that and he didn't want to give up coaching."
Louis Mulkey served as the Junior Varsity coach in basketball. When a core group of young players moved up to the varsity in 2007, Mulkey was with them on the bench as Summerville made a run through the state playoffs. In March 2007, the Green Wave lost the State Championship game to Fort Mill. While the players may have been disappointed, their assistant coach still believed.
"He told them 'this is not your year,'" Ann Mulkey said. "'It's OK, because next year is going to be your year,' and it was."
The coach was right but he wouldn't be there to see it. Three months later, Louis Mulkey was gone. The team dedicated the season to their fallen coach and once again made a run through the playoffs and ended up back in the State Championship. When Summerville played Spartanburg for the title in February 2008, Louis Mulkey wasn't in the building but his spirit was everywhere.
"They all had on the black hats that night," Mulkey said. The students and many fans wore black fire helmets with the initials "LM" on the front. The students chanted the coach's name for inspiration. If the players needed more encouragement, they could look on the bench and see a symbol of Louis Mulkey's courage: a fire helmet with a green and gold number 15. The players went out and fulfilled their coach's promise, winning the state title in dramatic fashion.
Ten years after his death, Louis Mulkey's story is still told at Summerville High and he's still inspiring the Green Wave. The fire helmet still comes out for home games on the court now known as The Firehouse. In December 2016 the school rededicated the gym in honor of the man who loved being a captain and a coach.