Memorial Service For Fallen Firefighters Underway - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

6/22/07-Charleston, SC

Memorial Service For Fallen Firefighters Underway

The coffins of nine Charleston firefighters are in front of a stage in North Charleston Coliseum this morning as a memorial service begins.

The firefighters died in a fire at a furniture store Monday night.

Pictures are located in front of each caskets.

The service opened with the presentation of flags and bagpipes. The pipes and drums included those from the New York Fire Department, who lost 343 firefighters in the September 11th terror attacks.

The Charleston deaths are the most since September 11th.

A procession of more than 100 fire trucks moved from downtown Charleston, past firehouses and the gutted furniture store en route to the coliseum this morning.

Thousands of people are at the coliseum for the memorial service, including firefighters from across the nation and Canada.

Today is a day of mourning in Charleston. The first funeral is scheduled this afternoon.

Two Republican presidential candidates, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee are attending.

911 tapes tell of heroism
Tapes and transcripts suggest that passing motorists and a store worker frantically called authorities about a fire behind the furniture store on the night nine firefighters died.

The transcripts and the 911 tapes were released Thursday. The phone calls tell a story of firefighters desperately trying to save someone caught inside the building.

The fire broke out about 7pm Monday evening at the Sofa Super Store and warehouse. It was a massive fire, fueled by all the wood and flammable material inside. One witness described the fire as being like "a 30-foot tornado of flames."

Another witness said, "It came from nowhere. It was a standing structure and five seconds later it was on the ground."

When firefighters first initially arrived, they entered the inferno to rescue what they were told were two trapped employees.

On the tapes, a dispatcher says, "Be advised, we have someone on the floor trapped inside."

"Okay, he is beating on the wall with a hammer trying to get someone's attention."

Later, control says, "Be advised the fireman told me they got one guy out and were going back for another."

That's when the unthinkable happened. The intense heat essentially melted the structure supporting the roof and it collapsed.

Riley says two employees in the store made it out safely.

The city only released the recordings of emergency calls to police. Calls to the fire department were not disclosed because they are still part of the federal investigation.

The coroner in Charleston says smoke inhalation and extensive burns killed the nine firefighters.

The firefighters who were killed had worked for the department anywhere from 18 months to 30 years. Killed were:

  • Capt. William "Billy" Hutchinson, 48
  • Capt. Mike Benke, 49
  • Capt. Louis Mulkey, 34
  • Engineer Mark Kelsey, 40
  • Engineer Bradford "Brad" Baity, 37
  • Assistant Engineer Michael French, 27
  • Firefighter James "Earl" Drayton, 56
  • Firefighter Brandon Thompson, 27
  • Firefighter Melven Champaign, 46

The National Fire Protection Association says the nine deaths is the most since 340 firefighters, two paramedics and a chaplain died on September 11th in New York City.

The Monday night blaze was the deadliest fire in the state since 11 people died in a fire at the Lancaster County jail in 1979.

Chief Rusty Thomas says his department has a "long road ahead," but he says they're "going to stand tall." The department has 237 firefighters in 19 companies located throughout the city.

As a result of the outpouring of support and requests from the community on how they can help, a fund has been established for those wanting to make donations. Donations can be dropped off at any branch of Bank of America or sent to:

City of Charleston Fireman's Fund
c/o Bank of America
P.O. Box 304
Charleston, South Carolina  29402

Posted by Bryce Mursch

Story provided by: WISTV Raycom Media.Copyright 2007 Raycom Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. AP contributed to this report.

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