Today's date, forever tied to last year's Sofa Super Store tragedy, carries extra weight for retiring Fire Chief Rusty Thomas.

On June 18 — 32 years ago today — Thomas pinned on his fire badge, launching a career that continued his family's proud tradition of firefighting. Thomas, a third-generation firefighter, has been chief since 1992.

Charleston City Council on Tuesday recognized Thomas' career and service to the community.

Thomas said he has not yet decided what he will do after he retires on June 27.

"I gave it all I had every single day," he said. "All I wanted to do was fight fire and protect this city. I don't know how to do anything else."

Thomas announced his retirement on May 14, the day before the release of a consultant's report that was highly critical of the Fire Department and its handling of the sofa store blaze that killed nine city firefighters.

Joined by his wife and children, Thomas stood at the front of City Council chambers as the crowd broke into a standing ovation.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said Thomas was a model public servant who not only protected the city as a firefighter but also gives countless volunteer hours to a number of community projects.

Riley said the city intends to install a permanent bronze plaque outside Fire Department headquarters on Wentworth Street listing the names of all the city's past fire chiefs, including Thomas.

Thomas choked up as he accepted the recognition. He said he is focused on today's events honoring the fallen firefighters, but he is looking forward to spending more time with his family in retirement.

"I have put the Fire Department in front of my family for a long time. Now they will come first."

Reach Ron Menchaca at or 937-5724.