Trending Topics

Watch: S.C. community says goodbye to fallen firefighter

Irmo Fire Chief Mike Sonefeld said James Muller would come to work prepared to give 110%



By Bristow Marchant
The State

COLUMBIA, S.C. — James Michael Muller lived a full life, even if it was cut short at the age of 25.

Muller’s grandfather, Kermit Morris, offered that assessment of the Irmo firefighter’s life at his grandson’s funeral at Riverland Hills Baptist Church on Wednesday, five days after Muller made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

Muller died Friday when a structure collapsed on him and six other firefighters while battling a blaze at the Tropical Ridge apartments on Stoneridge Drive in the St. Andrews area. The Irmo Fire Department was assisting Columbia firefighters in combating the fire, which displaced 19 apartment residents and remains under investigation.

Morris said Muller, who leaves behind a wife and young son along with his parents and a sister, was called to be a firefighter just as surely as Morris was called to be a pastor.

“We all have a calling, and finding it and living it is living to the max,” Morris said.

Muller’s pride and dedication to the fire service were an overarching theme of his funeral service. The fallen firefighter’s body was carried to the church on a department fire engine, which traveled in procession from the Caughman-Harman Funeral Home in Lexington over the Lake Murray Dam and down Lake Murray Boulevard through the middle of Irmo. Fire apparatuses from departments across the state and beyond were arrayed beside Riverland Hills for the service.

A seven-year veteran of the fire department, Muller was “a highly respected firefighter that had a love and passion for the job,” the Irmo Fire Department said in a statement after his death.

As a high school student, Muller transferred to the Lexington Technology Center and enrolled in its firefighting program, which he completed in one year instead of the usual two. An instructor called him “an excellent mentor and role model for other students and (he) naturally rises to leadership rolls when working in groups.”

A Columbia native, he interned at the Irmo Fire District through high school and joined up as soon as he earned his certification. In a TikTok video shared by the training organization Passion for the Craft, Muller called being a firefighter “the best job in the world,” and said, “if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.”

“You have to re-dedicate yourself every single day,” Muller said in the video, apparently talking to a group of fellow firefighters. “When you raise your right hand ... it’s an oath, it’s a commitment, it’s a living.”

That video was played on a projection screen above Muller’s flag-draped coffin on Wednesday, alongside other footage of Muller’s river baptism and flipping a tire outside the firehouse with his son.

Irmo Fire Chief Mike Sonefeld made reference to the video when he made remarks at the funeral.

“It’s not fun right now,” Sonefeld said. “I’m doing it wrong apparently.”

He said Muller would come to work prepared to give 110%, so he could serve his community at his full potential and “give the rest of it to us,” Sonefeld said.

Speaking to Muller’s family, the chief said: “We plan to spend the rest of our lives giving it back to you.”

Riverland Hills pastor Doc Hanberry said Muller’s life lived out the verse of John 15:13; that the greatest love is to “lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

“Love’s fabric is not purely emotion, but sacrifice,” Hanberry said. “To sacrifice for others in life, and if necessary, to sacrifice for others in death.”

Memorials in Muller’s honor can be made to the Irmo Fire Foundation.

©2023 The State.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

RELATED: S.C. FDs step up as Irmo mourns fallen firefighter