A simple gesture to honor the nine Charleston firefighters killed in the Sofa Super Store blaze with a memorial T-shirt has drawn interest from across the country and as far away as France, and culminated in a generous Christmas gift for the families of the fallen.
The parents of Charleston firefighter Bill Haigler initially printed 500 T-shirts at their Greenville screen-printing business for their son to give away to city firefighters and the families of those who perished on June 18. But after orders arrived for hundreds more shirts, the proceeds swelled to more than $17,000, all of which the family donated to the city firefighters fund this week.
Haigler's parents, Bruce and Jan Fosson, remember the panic they felt when they first heard about the fatal fire. "When we heard the news we immediately called to see if our son was OK," Jan Fosson said. "When we heard that nine died our hearts just went out to their families and we wondered what we could do to help."
The Fossons decided to use their business, Image Marketing USA in Greenville, to create a highly visible memorial that would serve as a constant reminder of the firefighters' sacrifice. The company's graphic designer, Danielle Lloyd, assembled a collage of firefighters working amid flames, over the caption "Band of Brothers."
Haigler realized others might be interested in buying the shirts as a way to donate to the City of Charleston Firemen's Fund. So he posted a message on the firefighting Web site Firehouse.com and within hours orders began arriving from California to New York, and as far away as England, France and Canada.
Orders ranged from individual purchases to lots of 50 to outfit entire fire stations. Firefighters from the Northeast, who have expressed a particular kinship with Charleston because of their own staggering losses on 9/11, accounted for a large portion of the orders, Fosson said.
"We just had no idea," she said. "We were just amazed at the number of orders coming in. It was a good feeling."
A check for $17,555 was expected to arrive Friday at the office of Fire Chief Rusty Thomas. As of Dec. 7, the fund had grown to nearly $4.3 million, said Mark Ruppel, the Fire Department's public information officer. "On behalf of the fire department, I want to thank the firefighter and his family," he said.
The Fossons said they would love to continue selling the shirts and donating to the fund, but processing hundreds of individual orders is taking a toll on their regular business. So they plan to offer the shirts for only another couple weeks.