Charleston 9: Firefighter Melvin Champaign
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Pamela Wiggins was settling into her home on the evening of June 18, 2007, when her phone rang.
"Pam did you see that big fire?" the caller asked. Wiggins turned on the television to see smoke billowing out of the Sofa Super Store building on Savannah Highway. She spotted her brother, Melvin Champaign, while watching the live television coverage.
"I saw my brother help somebody come out," she said. "Then he went back in. Like, what happened?"
It was the last time she saw Melvin Champaign alive.
"I kept calling his phone but he never answered," Wiggins said during a recent interview in her North Charleston home.
Family members say Champaign died answering his calling.
The Army Veteran's passion was helping people in need.
"Melvin will go beyond and backwards to do anything, help a person, save a person it doesn't matter," Wiggins said.
Champaign was a Charleston Firefighter for two years, working out of Station 16 in West Ashley. Inside the fire station, Champaign's memory lives on today as a plaque and picture hang high one the wall.
Loved ones said he did not grow up dreaming of one day becoming a fireman, but decided to join to help support his family and serve his community. Champaign's mother, Stella Ragin, is living with early onset Alzheimer's Disease. Ragin does not remember the night of the fire but does remember her son. She expressed he was always giving his all for others.
Champaign was an aspiring pastor with an ear for music.
He and his uncle, the Rev. Hercules Champaign, often studied the Word together.
"We'd go through the Bible and talk about the Lord," Champaign said.
While trapped inside the building, Champaign spoke to the Lord. In released radio transmissions, "In Jesus Name… Amen" were the final four words Champaign spoke before his radio went silent.
Champaign left behind three children, Reuben, Isaiah and Evieon. All three live near Tacoma, Washington. Evieon was 14 when her father died.
"He would just brighten up a room," she said in a Skype interview.
Today Evieon Champaign has a baby girl who will one day learn how her grandfather died, but more importantly how he lived.
"He would just bring so much joy into anything," Evieon said.
A decade later, his family members are moving forward knowing Champaign is beside them.
"I always say he was my hero," Wiggins said. "I didn't know my brother had all that in him but you know but that's why I say the hero."
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