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17 years later: Charleston Fire Department honors 9 firefighters killed in Sofa Super Store fire

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Tuesday will mark 17 years since nine of Charleston’s bravest soldiers died responding to a massive fire at a furniture store on Savannah Highway.

The Charleston Fire Department (CFD) will honor those who died during a ceremony held annually at Charleston 9 Memorial Park. The park was built on the site where the Sofa Super Store once stood.

Firefighters will begin a flagpole watch at the park, which will begin at midnight and last for 24 hours on June 18.

The ceremony with family, firefighters and management will begin at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast live on the department’s Facebook page.

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN

On the evening of June 18, 2007, a fire alarm went off at the Sofa Super Store. As firefighters arrived to battle the flames, black smoke billowed from the furniture store and warehouse.

A 911 call was received reporting that an employee was trapped in the building.

Firefighters rushed in and rescued the employee; however, a fire quickly consumed the building after the employee was released.

Shortly thereafter, the building’s nine firefighters issued a “May call.” The fire caused the roof to collapse and trap them in the structure. This would be their last call.

“Tonight… a great and heroic tragedy befell our community. Brave members of the Charleston Fire Department fight a huge fire in a store filled with fuel, one of the most flammable fuels, a couch shop. As a result of this massive fire, several City of Charleston firefighters were killed and are currently missing,” said then-Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, speaking to the community that evening.

RECOVERY AND FALLS

The fallen were rescued and carried out of the building by other firefighters.

Firefighter Brandon Thompson, Engineer Bradford Baity, Captain Louis Mulkey, Engineer Mark Kelsey, Captain Mike Benke, Captain William Hutchinson, Firefighter Melvin Champaign, Deputy Engineer Michael French, Firefighter Earl Drayton

HONORING HEROES

The firefighters, known to the community as the “Charleston 9”, were commemorated on June 22, 2007, when a procession of more than 300 fire trucks, fire trucks, ambulances and command vehicles – stretching approximately 7 miles (12 km) – moved in single file along a route that it ran past each of the three fire stations where the fallen people worked, and a furniture warehouse.

People from across the area, including law enforcement and ATF agents, gathered in the streets to pay their respects.

The procession moved along I-526 to the North Charleston Coliseum, where approximately 30,000 people gathered for a memorial service. Charleston city officials estimated that as many as 8,000 firefighters representing more than 700 emergency services from across the country took part in the operation.