Charleston 9: Firefighter James Earl Drayton
. - James "Earl" Drayton was the oldest firefighter killed the day of the Sofa Super Store fire.
The 56-year-old was a 32-year veteran, on his third retirement. But his wife, Kim Drayton, says he loved fighting fires, so he was back on the job again.
Kim said she tries not to think too much about the day that Earl died, but instead of the life she shared with him.
"Great husband, great father, great grandfather. Would help you in any way he could," Drayton said. Kim and Earl were married for about seven-and-a-half years. She first met him in 1994 when she worked downtown.
"And then I moved on. I left that job, and then we saw each other again back in 1999 through his daughter at the high school where I was working and that was the beginning," she said.
That beginning led to a courtship which eventually led to marriage. They loved to travel. She reminisced about trips they took together.
"I think this one was Jamaica," she said as she looked at photos. She says Earl loved to eat and relax.
"He was relaxed in that one, we were in Haiti," she says as she looks at more photos.
The week of the fire, they were getting ready for their third cruise.
"He was packed, packed to the max, I remember him coming into the room and looking at me and laughing at me because I was still trying to get myself together. That was about a week prior to his death," Drayton said.
The morning of his death, he kissed her goodbye and told her he would talk to her later.
"The day went on, I spoke to him about 3:30 p.m concerning an issue, and that was the very last time I spoke with him," she said.
She finished her day, went home and went to bed. Around midnight, there was a knock at the door.
"I saw the chaplain, I saw one of the firefighters, I didn't think anything of it," she said. She says they wanted to know if she knew Earl Drayton, and then they were sort of evasive. "I said, 'Okay.' They just went around, and I finally said, 'Well, what about the fire.' And that's when they said they can't find him and that was, wow, that was hard."
Drayton died, doing what he loved.
"He loved being a fireman. Didn't want to drive the truck, any of those things, he just wanted to fight fire," she said.
Drayton says faith has played a tremendous role in helping her to cope all these years.
"It was rough the first few years, but as time has passed, it's been good, God has been good. Yeah, he's been really good to me," Drayton said.
She has not remarried, but she has found a new love. She started riding motorcycles a few years ago and has traveled to Canada and Florida. Niagara Falls is her next adventure. She says Earl would have wanted her to enjoy life.
"He would want us to keep living, he would want us to keep living," she said.
Drayton never did go on that cruise to Puerto Rico.
As a matter of fact, she hasn't been on a cruise since Earl died. He had five children, three step-children and several grandchildren.
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