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Trapped: The story of nine Charleston firefighters' deaths

The Post and Courier
Sunday, August 19, 2007

As the Sofa Super Store fire roared in intensity, Charleston Battalion Chief Robert O’Donald made a final attempt to charge the flames and get inside to save fellow firefighters. He was unable to do so, and the ensuing frustration and anger are painted on his face.

Tyrone Walker
The Post and Courier

As the Sofa Super Store fire roared in intensity, Charleston Battalion Chief Robert O’Donald made a final attempt to charge the flames and get inside to save fellow firefighters. He was unable to do so, and the ensuing frustration and anger are painted on his face.

Inside the fire

View the key events of the Sofa Super Store fire.

A man's voice crackles over the Charleston 911 dispatch line at 7:08 p.m. on June 18. 'I'm at the Sofa Super Store on Highway 17,' the man shouts. 'There's a big fire in the back of the warehouse. It's huge.'

More calls flood the switchboard. Hurry, the callers say, smoke is pouring from the building.

Black smoke curls into the humid air over Savannah Highway. Rush hour wanes, but traffic still chokes the four-lane boulevard lined with a dense hodgepodge of car dealerships, fast food restaurants and strip malls.

The Sofa Super Store sits smack in the heart of this bustle, a one-time grocery store reborn as a discount furniture outlet. The building occupies nearly two acres of land, a sprawling mass of stucco and steel that squats between a gas station and a used-car lot. Inside the expansive showroom are hundreds of couches, filled with foam so highly combustible it burns like solid gasoline. The building contains no fire sprinklers.

Alarms sound at Engine Co. 11 while the on-duty crew shares a dinner of chicken pot pie with two veteran commanders, Assistant Fire Chief Larry Garvin and Battalion Chief George 'Buddy' Aytes. Based less than a mile away on Savannah Highway, their station house sits nearest to the sofa store. The men shove aside their plates, grab their gear and head for the door.

The men on Ladder 5 and Engine 10 follow close behind. Some call their station in Avondale the Five and Dime. Two miles lie between them and the fire.

Firefighter Brandon Thompson rides aboard Ladder 5, working a buddy shift to cover for a friend.

He's been hanging around fire stations since he was 14 years old.

Now 27, he's already a veteran and plans to get married in the fall. Michael 'Frenchie' French mans the wheel, a beer-drinking country boy who lives to fight fires. Mark Kelsey, a brassy rebel with a passion for motorcycles, runs the truck's pumps.

Engine 11 arrives first, siren blaring, its red finish polished to a high shine. Crew members race to the back of the store on Pebble Road, before learning they need to get to the front. They scramble to relocate to the front entrance as Engine 10 swings around the southern side of the building.

There, smoke pumps from a loading dock area where store workers often take cigarette breaks. Firefighters pile out and spray water at a covered walkway, which separates the main showroom from an adjoining warehouse packed with couches stacked five high.

'There's a bunch of trash and debris burning alongside the building,' Aytes reports. 'We ain't got in the building. It's right up against the wall.'

As the highest ranking officer on scene, Garvin assumes command. He's a portly, ruddy-faced veteran with short-clipped hair and a gravelly voice. He throws on his protective coat and helmet, but leaves the rest of his gear behind as he marches toward the front door.

Though based at fire headquarters downtown, Garvin knows this store. He spent an hour in it just a week before picking out furniture for a new fire station on Bees Ferry Road. He had also led a team through the building a year earlier to plan how firefighters would battle a blaze there.

Firefighters call these walk-throughs 'pre-plans.' They are supposed to provide crucial information that crews need to know in the event of a fire: the building's layout, potential hazards, the location of exits and hydrants, and the amount of water needed to douse a blaze.

Garvin's plan contains little more than a sketch of the building and some contact numbers. It makes no mention of the sofa store's maze-like placement of furniture or the enormous amount of water that would be needed if this forest of combustible couches caught fire.

The plan also doesn't indicate that a potentially dangerous steel truss system supports the roof over the massive showroom.

The design creates concealed spaces where fire can grow undetected over the heads of firefighters. Intense heat can cause a steel truss to collapse within 20 minutes. In firefighting circles, they call them 'widow-makers.'

Garvin now sizes up the situation and decides to lead two men inside the building to search for fire. He wades in three times, despite federal standards that call for incident commanders to remain outside burning buildings to coordinate firefighting.

Garvin initially finds no fire, only a few puffs of smoke near the back ceiling tiles, which are suspended from the steel truss. He concludes that the showroom is safe.

The department has a thermal imaging camera available that can 'see' heat through walls and ceilings and pinpoint fire inside. But it sits unused in the cab of a fire truck outside.

From inside the building, Garvin opens a rear door to the dock area between the showroom and warehouse. The fire immediately pulls the door from his hands as it sucks in fresh oxygen like a flue opening on a chimney. He can't shut it. Flames billow inside the showroom.

7:14 p.m.

'I got fire in the rear of the building,' Garvin radios to Aytes. 'It's walking its way on into the showroom.'

Six minutes have passed since the first report of fire.

Garvin calls for a team with 1 1/2-inch-diameter hose to travel deep into the back of the store to begin battling the fire from inside. The fire grows. He calls in a second team with a larger, 2 1/2-inch-diameter hose line.

Among the first teams in the building are the men from Ladder 5 — French, Thompson and Kelsey. They rush in and start spraying water on the spreading blaze.

Engines 16 and 19 arrive at the store from their station house on Ashley Hall Plantation Road. Engine 16 carries firefighter Melvin Champaign, an Army veteran and aspiring pastor; Capt. Mike Benke, a devoted family man and NASCAR fan; and engineer Art Wittner, an easy-going veteran with a soft smile and a firm handshake.

On Engine 19: Capt. Billy Hutchinson, a sports enthusiast who cuts friends' hair at $2 a head; James 'Earl' Drayton, whose 32 years with the department earned him the nickname 'old school;' and Brad Baity, a soft-spoken engineer known for his computer skills.

The crews from Engines 16 and 19 join the men of Ladder 5 inside. Also on hand is a crew from Station 15 on the peninsula that includes firefighter Mike Walker and Capt. Louis Mulkey, who coaches athletes at Summerville High School in his spare time.

Smoke grows thicker inside the building, but Garvin still feels certain that his men have the fire under control.

7:16 p.m.

Fire Chief Rusty Thomas pulls into the parking lot outside and grabs his gear from the back of his red Chevy Tahoe. He'd been returning from dinner with his wife, Carol, when the call came in. He leaves her sitting in the Tahoe as he dons his white chief's helmet and hustles toward the store, his suspenders swinging loose from his waist. He's tall and lanky, a fast-talking man with a Lowcountry drawl as thick as pluff mud.

Thomas barks commands into the radio — redeploying trucks, monitoring water supplies, coordinating incoming aid and checking the status of other station houses around the city. Under the city's command system, many of these tasks should be farmed out to other commanders on the scene so the chief can focus on the big picture. But Thomas is all over the radio, juggling fire commands and myriad other tasks at once.

Off-duty firefighters show up as the fire grows. Several hurry in from a memorial golf tournament at Shadowmoss Plantation for Shane Albers, a Charleston firefighter who died in a February traffic accident. Some have no more protection than the shorts and shirts they wore golfing.

Off-duty firefighter David Fleming is one of the lucky ones. He has his gear stashed in his car as he races toward the cloud of smoke looming on the horizon. He steers around a clot of traffic on Wappoo Road, driving on the wrong side of the road until he reaches a police barricade. Fleming flashes his badge and an officer waves him through.

His first thought as he looks at the burning store: I've got to get inside. The Charleston Fire Department prides itself on aggressive tactics. No one wants to be the man left outside a burning building. You get there quickly, get inside and 'put the wet stuff on the red stuff.'

Before Fleming can get in, another firefighter presses him into service connecting a hose to a ladder truck that needs water.

Radios hum with firefighters' demands for more water pressure. They can't get enough water on the fire to get it under control. The department uses supply hoses that are smaller than those used by most departments. To make matters worse, cars keep driving over the hoses.

Inside the store, the fire grows in intensity as it looks for oxygen. Heat builds in the steel truss over the firefighters' heads.

7:20 p.m.

Twelve minutes have passed since the first report of fire.

As calls for water multiply, more crews speed to the scene, including the crew of Engine 6, based downtown on Cannon Street.

A few blocks from the sofa store, five firefighters from the neighboring St. Andrews Fire Department eat dinner at the China Gourmet on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard, celebrating the 32nd birthday of firefighter Steven Beasley.

A friend calls St. Andrews Capt. Morris Sills and tells him about the blaze. He looks outside and sees a plume of black smoke billowing over Savannah Highway. Sills calls his dispatcher and says he plans to head over there with an engine and a rescue truck to see what's happening. 'It looks pretty big,' he says.

The St. Andrews crew arrives at the store at 7:22 p.m. and drives to the side near the loading dock, where Charleston firefighters struggle to contain the fire. Thomas tells the St. Andrews crew to move to the back of the warehouse, along Pebble Road, and battle the fire from there. Sills radios his station for more help.

Ronnie Jenkins stands on a john boat in his back yard, watching as firefighters take their positions along the rear of the warehouse.

His Pebble Road home is just 12 feet from the building.

He hears the crackle of flames. The heat stings his face and arms.

'Do I need to evacuate?' Jenkins asks a firefighter who seems to be in charge. The firefighter shakes his head and tells Jenkins he will be fine.

Jenkins looks to his home, where his 6-year-old daughter plays in the tub during her nightly bath. He hopes the fireman is right.

Just yards away, inside the warehouse, sofa store repairman Jonathan Tyrrell III crawls on his belly and gasps for air as black smoke curls above him. Flames block the only door to the tiny workroom where he had been working alone when the fire broke out.

He's trapped, and no one knows he's there. His throat burning from the heat, he frantically stabs at the buttons on his cell phone, trying to dial 911. The metal building makes it difficult for his phone to pick up a signal.

7:26 p.m.

Tyrrell's call finally goes through. Eighteen minutes have passed since the first report of fire.

'Please get some help for me,' Tyrrell whimpers. 'I've got a wife and kids.'

'We'll get you there buddy,' the dispatcher coaxes. 'Just hang in there. Stay low for me.'

Tyrrell pounds the metal wall with a hammer to help his rescuers find him. But the sound is a faint ping amid the sirens and clamor outside.

'Just keep beatin', keep beatin',' the dispatcher encourages. 'They are going to get you out of there.'

Beasley and fellow St. Andrews firefighter Daniel Bilton hear about Tyrrell from a police officer and run toward the back of the building. Along the way they meet up with Garvin, who also has heard the call and races to help.

Axes in hand, Beasley and Bilton chop through a weathered wooden fence along the property line and listen. Faint clanking comes from behind a piece of rippled metal wall where Tyrrell furiously hammers for his life.

Beasley and Bilton slam their axes into the metal siding and carve out a small, jagged hole. Tyrrell, gagging, appears through a cloud of black smoke and wriggles through the small opening. The firemen yank him from the hole and whisk him to paramedics waiting in front of the store.

7:31 p.m.

Twenty-three minutes have elapsed since the initial report of fire. For the men inside, the air in their tanks is running dangerously low.

Conditions inside the sofa store have deteriorated rapidly. Dense smoke roils through the showroom, blotting out light. The air becomes toxic, the heat intense.

More than a dozen firefighters fan out through the coal-black smoke inside. They struggle to hold the fire back and keep their bearings in the store's maze-like layout.

At every step they confront a jumble of sofas, beds and other furniture. Hazy sunshine still lights the sky outside. Inside, it's as dark as midnight.

Splintered transmissions sputter over the radio. Shouts, moans, unintelligible words.

The sound of muffled, heavy breathing breaks in. Air hisses as a voice shouts from behind a face mask: 'Lost connection with the hose!'

Firefighters know that's bad news. They train to follow their hoses to safety if they become disoriented in a fire. The hoses snake back toward the trucks — the way home.

7:32 p.m.

The call no firefighter ever wants to hear comes over the radio.

'Mayday!' a garbled voice from inside cries out.

Then a firefighter radios his dying wish to Chief Thomas:

'Car One. Please tell my wife that ... I love you.'

Thomas yells for everyone to stay off the radio, his only link to the men fighting the fire. A voice from inside the store cuts in, reciting the end of a prayer:

'In Jesus' name, amen.'

Thomas doesn't know who sounded the mayday. He's not sure who is in the building. But inside, firefighters are dying.

On a large fire scene, commanders are taught to conduct periodic radio checks on their men to determine their whereabouts.

Twenty-four minutes into the fire, no one is sure how many firefighters remain inside the building or who they are.

Thomas screams into the radio to his commanders: 'Is everybody out where you at?'

Garvin barks: 'No sir, we still got guys in there.'

In a shrill voice, Thomas shouts again for radio silence. 'You need to make sure all your people are accounted for.'

Inside, Engine 15's Mike Walker

thrashes through the smoke and furniture looking for a way out. He spots another firefighter's flashing emergency beacon and follows the light toward the front of the store.

He pounds the inside of a showroom window. Suddenly it smashes and another firefighter pulls him to safety. As he comes out, others look for a way in, still hoping to rescue those in trouble.

A dispatcher radios Thomas: 'Car One, the engineer of Ladder 5's emergency button has been activated.'

It's Mike French. They try to reach him by radio. No answer.

Someone orders two firefighters to break out windows along the front of the store. The fire inside sucks fresh air in through the jagged openings as shattered glass tinkles to the pavement. Thick brown and gray smoke boils from the building and curls over the soot-stained facade.

Mulkey, Walker's captain from Engine 15, is among those unaccounted for. They can't raise him on the radio.

Alarm devices attached to the firefighters' air packs wail through the darkness, indicating firefighters are in trouble. The alarms are designed to go off automatically if a firefighter goes down for 24 seconds or longer.

Word spreads quickly about Mulkey, a popular member of the department. Everyone wants to help.


joins some other men trying to chop a large hole in the side of the building to let out smoke and create a pathway in for water. He's hoping they can get to Mulkey as well. He plants his axe in the siding again and again, adrenalin surging through his system.

He doesn't realize he's hurt until he sees blood splatter from his hand. He looks down. His thumb dangles from ragged flesh. His day is done.

Around the corner, the smoke rolling from the front of the building now looks like thick, black cotton candy, a sign that the showroom is becoming superheated and could spontaneously ignite.

A hose line, swollen with water, snakes through the front door. Beasley grabs hold of the line and follows it into the building. Bilton grips Beasley's jacket with one hand and sweeps the air with the other, searching for some sign of the fallen. They can see only a foot beyond their faces.

About 20 yards in they come upon a Charleston firefighter. The man kneels on the floor, screaming for help.

Beasley grabs the firefighter's leg and pulls. Bilton turns to lead them out, following the hose line as he clutches Beasley's coat and helps pull him along. The heat envelops them.

Outside the building, Thomas keeps calling on his radio for Mulkey. 'Car One to the captain on 15 or anybody on 15.'


7:38 p.m.

Chief Thomas screams into his radio: 'Everybody abandon the building!'

Around back, Sills, the St. Andrews captain, has also ordered his men from the building. He watches the fire in awe. The fire is so hot the metal siding literally glows red, translucent.

At about 7:41 p.m., the showroom and its contents explode into flames.

Nearing the front door, Beasley steals a backward glance as tendrils of fire leap from one couch to the next in succession. Pop! Pop! Pop! A tidal wave of flame roars through the room and belches from the front windows.

Bilton and Beasley tumble from the store into the parking lot. Steam pours from Beasley's singed gear as he looks around. The firefighter they were trying to save is gone, lost somewhere in the inferno.

'I want everybody out of the building!' Thomas shouts again. 'We still can't find the captain of 15!'

Firefighters keep arriving, parking wherever they can. They scurry about, using whatever hose they can get their hands on to spray water on the fire.

Some even try to hold back flames with small, red hoses normally reserved for tiny trash fires.

Some firefighters wander close to the flames with no helmets, air packs, or protective gear. Off-duty men in shorts and sandals cart hoses. Voices step all over one another on the radio. Still the calls come for more water pressure.

One firefighter grumbles in frustration: 'If we can get these damn cops to stop those guys from running over our supply lines — that's what killing us.'

Firefighters watch helplessly as the flames roar from the building, white-hot.

Still, no one gives up. The men inside are family, brothers. No one is willing to leave them behind.

Charleston Battalion Chief Robert O'Donald makes one last attempt to charge the flames and get inside to save his friends. He reels back, his hands burned. He stumbles into the parking lot, grimaces and hurls a heavy bag into the air in frustration.

It's too late.

7:45 p.m.

The steel beams in the roof twist, sag and collapse in a crush of smoke and flames.

How many are still inside? No one knows.

The list of the missing slowly takes shape as the night wears on. Two names. Then four.

A firefighter roams the parking lot with a yellow legal pad, his assignment to record the names of the living.

Thomas radios a ladder truck. Are Thompson and Frenchie up in the bucket?


Six names.

Calls from friends and family flood the dispatcher center. Is my son among them? My husband?

In a nearby hospital, Fleming, the injured firefighter, watches television news accounts of the fire while doctors treat his hand. He keeps hoping that commanders have mistakenly counted him among the missing. That would mean one less guy lost in that building. A call to a fire dispatcher crushes that hope. No, Fleming is told, they know where you are.

The final count comes after midnight. Nine bodies lie among the smoking ruins. Mike French, Louis Mulkey, Brad Baity, Mike Benke, Melvin Champaign, Earl Drayton, Billy Hutchinson, Mark Kelsey, Brandon Thompson.

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or

Reach Ron Menchaca at 937-5724 or

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This article has  55 comment(s)

Posted by BamaAnn23 on August 19, 2007 at 7:07 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Thank you so much.

Posted by taleele_e on August 19, 2007 at 7:30 a.m. (Suggest removal)

That is so sad,thanks for sharing this story with us.

Posted by oldcap on August 19, 2007 at 8:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

RIP Brothers.

Posted by UberBlitzkrieg on August 19, 2007 at 8:38 a.m. (Suggest removal)

>>RIP Brothers.

Absolutley... RIP

Lay me down beside cool water
And lay to rest my body sore
Send the word out to my brothers
The fire is down, let it burn no more

Let me be ready Lord when the call comes in
When the sirens wail and the engines strain
When the smoke is thick and the air is thin
When innocent lives, in the balance hang

I've trained hard Lord and I've learned well
That I'm just one part of a human chain
Though it's been forged in the fires of hell
Still I've known fear Lord, and I've prayed for rain


If my brother goes down Lord, let me be near
Won't you let me have what the flames demand
Won't you give him voice, O Lord, and let me hear
And give me the reach Lord, for his outstretched hand

Let me be ready Lord if it comes my turn
Won't you let me be strong, let me not complain
Won't you let me go in and with a child return
Take me young Lord, but not in vain


--- Charles Ball / Plainfolk "Firemans Prayer"

Posted by FieldCom on August 19, 2007 at 8:50 a.m. (Suggest removal)

It was always going to sound just like you have described .... my deepest sympathy with you CFD and all those who had to experience this horrific and tragic event, including all the chiefs, officers and firefighters involved. Thank you too for continually reporting this story in the way you have done so with such graphic coverage.

We need to know what went on ....

Posted by Ohhowthemightywillfall on August 19, 2007 at 9:20 a.m. (Suggest removal)

What a horrific story!! God Bless the Charleston NINE there families and Brothers.

Posted by Brant on August 19, 2007 at 9:39 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Absolutely gripping reporting. Thank you.

Posted by juniemoon1957 on August 19, 2007 at 9:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

My sincere condolences on the loss of all of the fire fighters. My prayers have been with you in the weeks and will in the months that follow. God bless you all.

Posted by aconcernedcitizen on August 19, 2007 at 9:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The firefighter stood and faced his God, which must always come to pass
He hoped his shoes were shining, just as brightly as his brass.

"Step forward now, you firefighter, how shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek? To my church have you been true?

The firefighter squared his shoulders and said, "No, Lord, I guess I ain't
Because those of us who fight fire can't always be a saint.

I've had to work most Sundays, and at times my talk was tough,
And sometimes I've been violent, because the streets are awful tough

But, I never took a penny that wasn't mine to keep...
Though I worked a lot of overtime when the bills got just to steep,

And I never passed a cry for help, though at times I shook with fear,
And sometimes, God forgive me, I've wept unmanly tears.

I know I don't deserve a place among the people here,
They never wanted me around except to calm their fears.

If you've a place for me here, Lord, it needn't be so grand,
I never expected or had too much, but if you don't I'll understand."

There was a silence all around the throne where the saints had often trod
As the firefighter waited quietly for the judgment of his God,

"Step forward now you firefighter, you've borne your burdens well,
Walk peacefully on Heaven's streets, You've done your time in Hell."

Posted by dog on August 19, 2007 at 9:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Great reporting. God bless our fallen & all at CFD.

Posted by meemz on August 19, 2007 at 10:15 a.m. (Suggest removal)

An absolutely gruesome, heart wrenching report. I sit here in tears, numb. Yes, God Bless the Charleston 9, their families and their brothers.

Posted by FF40212 on August 19, 2007 at 10:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)

There are several inaccuracies in this story.

For example: Mark Kelsey was the Acting Captain on L5 that day. He was riding officer. Also, L5 doesn't have any "pumps" on it.

There are other parts as well.

Just shows you can't always believe what you read.....

Posted by seenit on August 19, 2007 at 10:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"He wades in three times, despite federal standards that call for incident commanders to remain outside burning buildings to coordinate firefighting." It reads a bit like the writers are taking a shot, or biased a bit and in a particular direction. This is done throughout, in places.

Posted by nickiegarbeil on August 19, 2007 at 11:08 a.m. (Suggest removal)

God bless those men who have fallen, their families and their brothers in CFD.

Men are dying all too often...they need our help..God bless the fallen in NYFD in yesterday's fire...

Posted by nickiegarbeil on August 19, 2007 at 11:09 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Jeez Todd, can't you just shut up and honor the brothers instead of stirring the crap?

Posted by nickiegarbeil on August 19, 2007 at 11:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)


Maybe it's time for people to see the truth and act on all fairness, arguing on this page doesn't seem right...we can take it to another one.

Posted by UberBlitzkrieg on August 19, 2007 at 12:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

>>Maybe it's time for people to see the truth and act on all fairness, arguing on this page doesn't seem right...we can take it to another one.

AGREED!! Leave it alone on this page.

Posted by east4 on August 19, 2007 at 1 p.m. (Suggest removal)

God bless my fallen brothers and those of us who are left behind.

Charleston "9" will never be forgotten.

Posted by Radiowave on August 19, 2007 at 1:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I live and work in the city of Charleston. I honor our 9 fallen fire fighters and embrace their loved ones, friends and colleagues. I also want to say thank you to all CFD members as well as members of other fire departments in the area. I am grateful for your service.

Posted by hazmatking on August 19, 2007 at 1:57 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Ron Menchaca and Glenn Smith thank you for the "Tragic Story of How Nine Brave Firefighters Died". Your work is important for the healing and grief counseling of the families and members of the Charleston Fire Department.
Although I am a retired Fire Chief living on the West Coast and can relate to this situation, we seldom lose nine of our brother firefighters in one incident.

Please continue your work on this critical matter to help and alert the Fire Service around our nation. It is important to show just how dangerous firefighting is and what firefighters face in day-to-day operations.

Hank Howard

Posted by FiddlerCrab7 on August 19, 2007 at 3:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

My heart goes out to the families and firefighting brothers and sisters of the Charleston 9. I am sorry for your loss.

Posted by lillady on August 19, 2007 at 4:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

For those people with their inaccuracy complaint.. are little technicalities so important in such and important article? No. The tears we shed again and the understanding it brings is what is important. THAT is the purpose of this article. To bring forth the story. We are with these men and their families in spirit and will remember them for years to come. Just because of articles like these.

Posted by FiddlerCrab7 on August 19, 2007 at 5:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Has anyone seen this post in the Fire Engineering journal, which asserts that the panel's recommendations should have been stronger?

The writer advocates for adequate staffing and training, and commends the CFD ff on their dedication and passion.


Posted by Radiowave on August 19, 2007 at 6:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

NancyN, this tread is to honor our 9 ff not to assign blame.

But you may want to look at the John Pundt video and relate it to the story timeline:

There's a lot more that will come out in the near future.

Posted by meemz on August 19, 2007 at 6:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

aconcernedcitizen, What a beautiful,beautiful poem; thank you so much for sharing!

nickiegarbeil, are you able to share the link to another page to which you make reference? I am very interested in reading, if you're able to. Radiowave or seenit - any of you, if you have a link and can share, please do.


Posted by beemz on August 19, 2007 at 7:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I am new to the area.
I have heard of the Charleston nine.
What brave men they must have been.
Let me offer my sympathy to the families and friends of the firefighters who so gallantly gave their lives.

Posted by captainscott on August 19, 2007 at 7:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

My prayer for the families and frends of CFD and the community is to remember the lives of those who serve. "Life is just a vapor, here one moment, gone the next." Live, enjoy and honor those who have given the ultimate.

Posted by beemz on August 19, 2007 at 7:22 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Thank you cvs.

Posted by 7New7Creation7 on August 19, 2007 at 7:57 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Inaccuracies are a given in any news story - in print or on air. People are human. They make mistakes.
You can say what you want, now, after the fact, of what these guys should or shouldn't have done, but PLEASE don't sit here and rip these guys for being the ones who were brave enough to do what they did that day.
You, who sit behind a computer, throwing out your opinions on what should have or should not have happened at any given moment that day is way too easy for you to do, and more cowardly than anything I've seen in my life and I am sick of it. Were mistakes made? Of course, that's why they say hindsight is 20/20.

Where were you?
Standing on the sidelines gawking, no doubt. With an almost uncontrollable urge to get in there and do something, no doubt. Well, here's your 20/20: Go get your training and become a firefighter, fight this kind of thing and you can put your two cents in.

I have been fortunate to have worked with some of these guys and become friends with a few. They are outstanding men. They do what we apparently do not have the courage to do. THAT is why they are called HEROES. Everyone on that fire that night IS a hero, Chief Thomas included, whether you agree with him, like his personality or not.

Reading this has just brought me to tears, once again, by what the remaining survivors of this brotherhood went through and must still be going through.
It angers me, that for all you think you know, you can piously spout your ignorance as golden, while real people risk real lives, lose real friends and loved ones, and will carry real pain for the rest of their lives over this tragic fire.

God bless all the firefighters of CFD, ST.A, and all over the world for taking care of all of us who appreciate what you do, as well as the ingrates.

Posted by junior24 on August 19, 2007 at 8:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

7New7Creation7.....Thank you!! I've been waiting for someone to say that.

Posted by trinitytim on August 19, 2007 at 8:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

As someone who has lost close friends in the line of duty I want to commend the Charleston 9 and thank them for their sacrifce and dedication.

This thread should be reserved to honor these heroes, not to argue about what went wrong. The truth will come out in its own time.

As for me I salute all firefighters, paramedics, and police officers who willingly step into danger to protect the rest of us. God bless you all. You are all heroes and I continue to pray for all of you.

Posted by exorcist_pencocky on August 19, 2007 at 8:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

7New7Creation7 - "Everyone on that fire that night IS a hero, Chief Thomas included, whether you agree with him, like his personality or not."

Are you willing to spend, another 9 firemen, to defend chief thomas and his inability to lead. "Whom would you choose to sacrifice on the fiery altar this time." The changes recommended by this panel, after almost 4 days of examination, 'YES' in that short period of time they found major problems in leadership at the top. There are basic command and control requirements, hard won and battle tested under fire. They are designed to help protect the firemen fighting the fire and minimize as much as possible their danger. Your chief thomas threw these items out the window a good while back, "we don't need these we have our own charleston way of training," he says.

And 'you' try to link chief thomas to these 9 heroes and all the other brave firefighters who did the best they or anyone else could do, with what they had.

It is time for chief thomas and the city of charleston mayor riley to do the honorable thing and resign immediately.

Posted by republicantothebone on August 19, 2007 at 9:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

>It is time for chief thomas and the city of charleston mayor riley to do the honorable thing and resign immediately

I second that

Posted by ENGINEMAN248 on August 19, 2007 at 9:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

As I said yesterday,the Charleston 9's deaths will not be in vain.I hope the mayor and Chief Thomas and the citizens all come together to improve the CFD.

Posted by gfd119 on August 19, 2007 at 9:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Leadership requires vision to the future....and it is so difficult to look toward the future when so many are looking to what was in the past regarding what Chief Thomas "has or has not" done. I believe the majority that are close to this tragedy fully understand there has got to be comprehensive change in alot of areas.

I'd like to leave this thought.....Good leaders take people where they want to go......Great leaders take people where the ought to be.

R. Wittenbarger, GFD, Georgetown, KY

Posted by 7New7Creation7 on August 19, 2007 at 10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

>It is time for the city of Charleston Mayor Riley to do the honorable thing and resign immediately.*Boy, do I agree*

It is normal to need a scapegoat in situations ike this. All I can say is that to blame everything on Chief Thomas is dull, ignorant and letting alot of valid arguments slip.

There should be a questioning in everything that has happened. I agree things could and should have been handled differently - from where I stand today. However, I wasn't there, in his shoes that day, nor were you. He has to live with what's happened for the rest of his life, and truly has only One to answer to when all is said and done. Let's hope no one puts such incredible judgement on you for what you have and have not done in your lifetime.

No sprinkler system in this store? $52,500 impact fees, a $14,000 water meter and over $2,000 a year to have one in place? A sprinkler system that could have re-written this whole tragedy by saving water, time, property and lives. All because Charleston Water wants to charge that much for every buisness who MAY use it? That is ridiculous! Even worse, Riley's greedy little hands there, too. From a P&C article on June 29 on the impact fees: "Riley, who serves as a voting member of the water system's board, also said he expects the utility will study the impact fee issue. Riley said if changing fees affects its agreements with the utility's bondholders, the city might look at providing tax credits or financing."
A little too late for the Charleston 9, but luckily not for the reamining.

Riley is all about saving his own face and behind at this juncture and it is appalling that everyone but him should be held accounable for this. I, too, would love to see him resign, but the man and his inflated self-importance is too thick for that idea to ever germinate in his head.

WE, however, have the power to vote this monstrocity of a man right where he belongs - out of his gilded chair on HIS behind before the little tyrant causes this city any further damage.

Posted by 7New7Creation7 on August 19, 2007 at 10:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

>To aconcernedcitizen<
Beautiful poem, thank you!

Posted by charlestonclemsonfan on August 19, 2007 at 10:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)

To all of you concerned so call citizens in the tri-county area most of you never even stop by a fire house to say thanks for the good job you are doing you sit at home and enjoy your holiday meals while always on duty are your local and national first responders.All the past years the people want to complain that firemen only sit and play cards and watch TV all day,not understanding how much training is actually involved in being a fireman and all that goes with the JOB. Alot of the Charleston Fire Department Firefighters are second or third generation firemen and would do the job regardless. So at the next City council meeting and the budget comes up for review go and stand up and tell the council you volunteer to accept a tax increase to fund all of your great ideas that you think you all have.Sure changes could be made to everything but with most large operations you must weight out all aspects and see if it will be a correction or a wash. However before anyone goes pointing fingers and blaming someone think of the whole situation before you speak,the families and friends and fellow co-workers must live with this for the rest of there lives regardless.But to all Charleston Fire Department and Families Thank You all for the SACARIFICES you endure evryday. THE CHARLESTON 9 HEREOS WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN

Andy Garvin

Posted by Pols101 on August 19, 2007 at 11:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Menchaca & Smith, you have done one hell of a job telling this story. Your article is award winning. I hope that it does not go unnoticed by the national media. Thank you for the countless hours that you have worked to help bring the honor that you have upon these unbelievable men! Where do we get such men? God bless the men of the Charleston Fire Department!

Posted by miki on August 19, 2007 at 11:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

This is so well written and so horribly accurate. Too close to living it again, but necessary. Thanks for a compelling tribute.

And thanks to the Charleston 9 and their families, and Brothers and Sisters. You're bravery is always appreciated and your loss is our loss.

Posted by miki on August 19, 2007 at 11:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

This is so well written and so horribly accurate. Too close to living it again, but necessary. Thanks for a compelling tribute.

And thanks to the Charleston 9 and their families, and Brothers and Sisters. Your bravery is always appreciated and your loss is our loss.

Posted by nickiegarbeil on August 20, 2007 at 12:04 a.m. (Suggest removal)


Any of the related stories have their comment section. Here is like being on Hallowed Ground...just not he place for slinging...

Posted by svESinKW on August 20, 2007 at 12:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

God Bless Rusty Thomas, a good man! And God Bless the Charleston 9, heroes to whom I can never begin to show enough gratitude, and the rest of the "brotherhood" who do things I will never be brave enough to do in this lifetime.

Posted by meemz on August 20, 2007 at 6:29 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I guarantee you that any portion of the $8million Joe was appropriated to restore city hall would have been an excellent start to improve our local fire departments. It never ceases to amaze me where the priorities lie.

Posted by oldcap on August 20, 2007 at 10:50 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Andy - slow down. Your dad still gets to retire.

Meemz - Joe doesn't care. He never has and that's what Charlestonians will discover when the whole lid comes off.

Posted by huntress87 on August 20, 2007 at 10:58 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Still my thoughts linger, everytime he goes to work.. I see his face and know he has to deal with so much to this day. he doesn't talk about it often, he has his own demons to battle.. His anger and his loss.

This story may not be completely accurate, but it does go a long way.. I will never forget you our sweet Charleston 9.. for my CFD family left to carry on.. BE strong in the knowledge we are trying to make the changes you need..

Posted by east4 on August 20, 2007 at 6:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Rusty at it again. He promoted one of his "boys" to Deputy Chief. R. O'Donald is now in charge over people who are senior to him. Rusty just does not learn. History repeating itself in the great state of Charleston.
All who are employed with the City Fire Dept, watch your own back because no one at the top is!!!!!
Well way to go Joe you left an idiot in charge and now he as put in place the "good ole boy" system back in full effect.

Posted by exorcist_pencocky on August 20, 2007 at 8:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Here is a protest chant you can use at city hall. "Hey Hey, HO HO, joesph riley has got to go, Hey Hey, HO HO, joesph riley has got to go"

Posted by FiddlerCrab7 on August 20, 2007 at 8:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I hope there's good turnout at the City Council meeting, including citizens and media. We need to ask hard questions.

I am sorry to use this particular thread to make a case, but this may be the last chance before the City Council meeting. I can't look at images of the fallen and not speak up.

If public safety is a major priority in this year's budget, then why was so much spent on the City Hall structure and rededication?

I stumbled across this link today, and the timing makes me sad. The City Hall rededication occurred just a week before the tragic fire:

Was it so important to commission a seal carved in marble when our ff are working with substandard equipment/uniforms and have a minimal training budget?

"One decorative element added to Charleston City Hall's first floor is this seal carved in the marble and filled with epoxy so it will last longer."

The old guard is strong, but I hate to see public safety and the lives of our dedicated ff compromised.


Posted by charlestonclemsonfan on August 20, 2007 at 9:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

well oldcap because you could not handle all the current pressure of being in the department so you had to fake an injury and go out on disability. quit hiding behind all your other bs and admit you are not a man only a COWARD and just cant handle personal failure in life,be a man and go to the officers of the department personally and talk over your problems because after all you said you worked with them be a MAN not a computer coward,besides what is calling for resignations really going to do please explain because i dont understand before all this event you never went to the media and discussed a problem why now!

Posted by FIRSTDUE on August 20, 2007 at 10:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Chief O'Donald is the best choice from inside dept.
He is fairly up to speed with most of these recomendations and how they are used in other departments. He also has a lot of rapor with area fds that he can and will resource.
He has also been to many seminars and training outside of dept. Good luck and Godspeed.

Posted by Boosterhose on August 21, 2007 at 3:12 a.m. (Suggest removal)

How about Chief Finley? He's college educated and has been around awhile. Always impressed me as a smart level headed person.

Posted by nickiegarbeil on August 22, 2007 at 7:42 a.m. (Suggest removal)

These positions were created by the panel, BUT the initial request by them was that the people that fill them initially are placed in a temporary 6 month slot (per the recommendations)..the question is the intention of the current administration...The problem with moving them up from within is that it could be more of the same deep roots from the poison tree...

I am certainly not in agreement with these two placements because of their movement from within, but I am curious as to what will happen next...

Posted by meemz on August 23, 2007 at 8 p.m. (Suggest removal)

>>Chief O'Donald is the best choice from inside dept.
He is fairly up to speed with most of these recomendations and how they are used in other departments.

"Fairly" up to speed with "most" of these recommendations... is simply not acceptable! My question is if he has a fair knowledge of the initial recommendations AND how they are used in other departments, why wouldn't he have recommended the implementation of these changes when he first became aware of the deficiencies?

Posted by TheTruthHurts on August 27, 2007 at 1:23 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Robert O'Donald is one of the many tumors that riddle the body of the Charleston Fire Dept like a cancer. This is an individual who would do ANYTHING in order to crawl just a little bit further up Rusty's ass. Why? Because someone may have an opinion? Or maybe they just didn't want to volunteer all there time to the CFD. Some people actually care about spending time with their families. Yes, I know your a "Team Player". I've seen your picture in the newspaper. Your my hero. But the truth of the matter is that 95 % of the CFD have no respect for Robert O'Donald. To see Robert O'Donald at the funerals for some of these guys repulsed me. Unfortunately, (and my opinion is based solely on the number of years I was a fire fighter with the CFD, seeing and hearing, first hand and not rumor B.S.) I truly believe that the new deputy chief, Robert O'Donald did not have one bit of respect for any of the 9 guys before this happened. And I'm doubtful that has changed. That may be a bold statement, but for the bottom of my soul it's what I truly believe.
All I know, is that you have to look at yourself in the mirror. I hope the guilt and nightmares keep you up all night Robert. Even in tragedy, you can't help but think about yourself.

These 9 guys were heroes before June 18.

I miss you Kelsey, Capt. Benke, Brad, Louis, Capt. Billy, Earl, Brandon, Frenchy and Champagne.

Please guys, stick together and speak the truth. Just state the facts. Start a new "TRADITION". One that is fair and honest.

For the good guys.

A True Brotherhood.

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