Mourning the Charleston fallen 3 years later

Not a week goes by without memories of that fateful day at the Sofa Super Store when 9 firefighters died


By Jay Lowry   

On June 18, 2007, as Charleston's firefighters sped down Savannah Highway to a reported fire at the Sofa Super Store, no one knew that within an hour nine firefighters would lose their lives and an entire community would be changed forever.

Three years later and the grief is palpable. Not a week goes by without memories of that fateful day and the subsequent revelations produced by reporters and investigators.

AP Photo/Stephen MortonFirefighters from Charleston and surrounding areas pause for a moment of prayer in front of the rubble of the Sofa Super Store on Tuesday, June 19, 2007.

AP Photo/Stephen Morton
Firefighters from Charleston and surrounding areas pause for a moment of prayer in front of the rubble of the Sofa Super Store on Tuesday, June 19, 2007.

Not a day passes without the memories of each of the men, individuals from different backgrounds but forever linked in sacrifice.

More than half of the Charleston Fire Department serving on June 18, 2007, have retired, moved on or gone out on disability.

At neighboring St. Andrews Fire Department, on the scene in minutes, the toll has been heavy for some, so much so they too have deep emotional scars.

No one outside of the community can appreciate the tectonic shift in the community. Just as we all remember 9/11 but not in the same way FDNY firefighters remember it because they were there, in Manhattan, those outside of Charleston cannot grasp the grief, anger and pain.

Much has changed in the department due to an overhaul of the command staff and the leadership of Chief Tom Carr. The Firefighter Support Team has also played an integral role in helping firefighters cope with loss and in rebuilding trust.

Former and current firefighters from the area are well aware of the details. Yet, three years removed, the single most important item on the third anniversary is remembering the men and their families.

Brad Baity, Mark Kelsey, Melvin Champaign, Brandon Thompson and Michael French; William “Billy” Hutchinson, Earl Drayton, Mike Benke and Louis Mulkey.

Each an individual with family and friends, creating a network of those who shall never forget, nor fail to honor their sacrifices.

Billy Hutchinson is always in this author's thoughts. Cutting my hair on a regular basis, Billy was quick with a joke and as we had our bunks close together when we served in Engine 10 and Ladder 5, I can still hear Billy cracking jokes about the state of things.

There are literally thousands of stories and they will be told. For now, on the third anniversary of the loss of nine firefighters let us remember this.

Nine men are no longer walking among us mere mortals. If June 18 creates a single lasting memory in our collective conscience, let it be the nine brothers who, as one, are forged forever in our minds as a symbol of humanity’s greater good.

Instead of judging heroes by their speed on an athletic field or how many votes they receive, let us focus our attention on people who went to help others.

In Charleston, these nine, and those left behind, are heroes.

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