The nine city of Charleston firefighters who died five years ago today in the Sofa Super Store fire were honored tonight in a somber ceremony at the site of the blaze.
A new leather fire helmet bearing their names was carried into the ceremony.
Firefighters Brad Baity, Mike Benke, Melvin Champaign, Earl Drayton, Michael French, Billy Hutchinson, Mark Kelsey, Louis Mulkey and Brandon Thompson were lost on June 18, 2007, while battling a trash fire that raced inside what was at the time, a massive furniture outlet, and exploded into a rolling inferno.
Some of the department’s members say it is hard to believe five years have passed since the fatal Savannah Highway disaster shook the department.
“We never thought we would lose anyone, let alone nine people,” said Chris Villarreal, captain of Charleston Fire Station 9 off upper King Street.
“There has been a lot of emotion flowing around these last few weeks,” he added.
The ceremony included a procession, a bagpiper and the reading of the nine names and the ringing of a bell. City officials, firefighters and their families, and others were on hand.
The blaze was the nation’s deadliest firefighting tragedy since Sept. 11, 2001. It is thought to have been started by a discarded cigarette in the loading dock area.
The memorial leather helmet being added to the ceremony was given to the department by Phenix Technologies, a national maker of professional fire gear.