A solemn, subdued memorial is planned for Friday evening to mark the third anniversary of the Sofa Super Store blaze that claimed the lives of nine Charleston firefighters.
The Savannah Highway site of the deadly fire will be open for people to pay their respects. Firefighters and families of the fallen will go first, in a private session between 6 and 7 p.m. The public will then be allowed on the grounds between 7 and 10 p.m., said Mark Ruppel, the Fire Department's public information officer.
The memorial will be much the same as last year's event, with no speeches or presentations planned. Fire Chief Thomas Carr will simply read the names of the nine men and a fire bell will ring for each, Ruppel said. A quintet will play solemn selections during the event, he said.
Charleston police will be on hand to assist visitors with crossing to the site, but the road will remain open during the memorial.
The firefighters died on June 18, 2007, battling a trash fire that raced inside the massive furniture outlet and exploded into a rolling inferno. The blaze was the nation's deadliest firefighting tragedy since Sept. 11, 2001.
Last year's memorial drew about 2,000 people, but officials don't know how many to expect this time, Ruppel said. Some firefighters want to be there, while others want to grieve privately or mark the occasion with their families, he said.
"The chief and the department are encouraging them to grieve in whatever way they need to," he said. "It's different for everybody."
Bill Haigler, president of the Charleston firefighters union, said the enormity of the tragedy still ripples through the department and the pain has not dulled with the passage of time. "I think, for a lot of guys, we are more fragile now than we were last year," he said.
Haigler will be working that day, but he hopes his crew will get a chance to pay their respects, though visiting the site remains hard.
"It's always difficult when you see the flags and you know what they mean," he said. "You go out there and realize that every day you go to work, you should do something to remember those guys, whatever it is."
Also Friday, the North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum and Educational Center will again suspend general admission fees to mark the anniversary of the sofa store fire and honor the men who died.
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