Charleston 9: Engineer Mark Kelsey

VIDEO: Charleston 9: Mark Kelsey
Updated: Jun. 16, 2017 at 9:09 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Paul Kelsey still keeps one of his father's firefighting helmets in the garage. Ten years after the Sofa Super Store fire, Engineer Mark Kelsey's gear remains unwashed.

"I love my dad to death, but I don't want to remember him in death," Kelsey said. "I want to remember him when he was alive."

Mark Kelsey's only child, Paul, was 14 years old when he saw the massive fire on the news the night of June 17, 2007.

"My mother pulls me aside and tell me my dad was probably in that fire," Kelsey recalled. "We didn't know at the time. We didn't know until later when they verified the body."

Kelsey said the sudden death left him "emotionless" until the funeral in his father's hometown of Washington, Indiana.

"We just hugged and … all of my emotions came out at that point and I feel that at that point is when it started going back uphill," he said.

Kelsey's funeral was the last of the nine Charleston firefighters who died.

The South Carolina State Firefighters Association assigned a Pickens County firefighter to assist the Kelsey family with any of their needs following the fire.

Vineyards Fire District Assistant Chief Kevin McClain escorted Kelsey's body on two commercial flights from Charleston to Indiana for burial.

He said the flight captain informed fellow passengers of the situation. Two people in first class gave their seats to McClain and a fellow firefighter escort. McClain still gets choked up when recalling the plane's landing.

"Before anybody moved on that plane, we got to get off and everybody on that plane remained seated until they took Mark Kelsey's body off that plane and loaded him into that hearse," he said.

McClain still has his boarding passes from Kelsey's final flights.

"The respect that people showed these guys that they didn't even know - it was just unbelievable," he said.

Kelsey's son remembers the days after the funeral.

"I was kind of emotionless for probably the next few weeks or so," he said. "I didn't cry, I didn't smile, I didn't get sad or anything like that. I just didn't know how to take it. I did not know how to feel those emotions at that time."

Paul says he still focuses on work and school to distract himself from the lingering questions from that night here almost 10 years ago.

"Why was it him? Why did it have to be him, kind of a thing. I'll never get to see him again. I never got to say goodbye. Those kind of things," he said.

His dad's memory is forever frozen in time.

"No matter how hard I think, I could never think of a bad memory of him," Kelsey said. I've never ever recollect a bad memory of him."

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