Firefighters using tattoos as permanent memorials

The Post and Courier
Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Jared Harris, a firefighter with Goose Creek Station No. 1, chose this popular design for a tattoo to honor those who died last week.

Grace Beahm
The Post and Courier

Jared Harris, a firefighter with Goose Creek Station No. 1, chose this popular design for a tattoo to honor those who died last week.

At a Glance

WHAT: Free memorial tattoos for firefighters

WHEN: Noon Thursday

WHERE: Blu Gorilla Tattoo, 1436 Meeting St.

NOTES: Bring a form of identification or pay stub.

Ricky Koger, a retired firefighter, never thought he'd get a tattoo.

Then again, he never thought he'd lose nine of his "brothers" in one night to a massive fire.

Koger, 55, used to swap shifts with Mike Benke, a NASCAR fan, so Benke could attend the races.

He and Billy Hutchinson watched their kids grow up together. Hutchinson, a part-time barber, used to cut Koger's hair, and once accidentally gave him an uneven haircut. ("That's my style," Hutchinson told him.)

These memories, Koger said, are what he will think of when he looks down at his new tattoo of a maltese cross on his right forearm.

Flowers wilt. Memorials blend in with the scenery. But Koger's tattoo — with the words "Fallen 9" below it — is a permanent symbol of those who died in the June 18 furniture store fire.

"My soul told me I needed to go," Koger said. "This way, everyone who shakes my hand will see it, and no one will ever forget."

Dozens of other firefighters went to Blu Gorilla Tattoo on Tuesday with the same idea. The shop at 1436 Meeting St. offered free tattoos to firefighters in honor of their fallen colleagues.

Less than an hour after the store opened, more than 30 firefighters had picked memorial designs. Each would normally cost between $60 and $90.

Some work was inked by Steven Beasley, a firefighter himself.

They came representing stations from around the Lowcountry: Edisto Beach, the Isle of Palms, Goose Creek and, of course, the city of Charleston. In the waiting room, they traded stories and got a feel for how the other departments operate.

Who's your department's craziest driver? Where did that engineer transfer to? What happens to the possum that lives under the Edisto fire truck when the department gets a call?

In unison, firefighters from smaller departments complained that it's been a while since their last "decent" call. Stations of that size can wait months before responding to a fire big enough to unravel the fire hoses.

And then there was talk about fire itself. They used a different language to describe the way it ate away buildings and forests. In their stories, windows popped, smoke rolled and flames walked.

They described the friendship between firefighters as "brotherhood." Many said they were closer to their co-workers than to their own families.

West LeMacks, 25, of North Charleston, started working for the Ashley River Fire Department four months ago. Already, fellow firefighters have duct-taped him to his bed and rigged his training gear in a way that left him entangled in rope.

"It's unreal," said LeMacks, who hugged a chair while Beasley etched wording into his right back shoulder.

The camaraderie stretches beyond the Lowcountry's borders.

Koger has traded fire stories at stations in California and Florida. And that's why more than 150 fire departments were represented at Friday's memorial service in North Charleston.

Ricky Koger, a retired Charleston firefighter, receives the permanent reminder of his fallen brethren from tattoo artist and firefighter Steven Beasley. Kevin Land waits his turn.

Grace Beahm
The Post and Courier

Ricky Koger, a retired Charleston firefighter, receives the permanent reminder of his fallen brethren from tattoo artist and firefighter Steven Beasley. Kevin Land waits his turn.

"This could have been for a fallen firefighter in Wyoming, and we still would have been here," said Michael Hommel, 28, who fights fires on the Isle of Palms.

He planned to get a "9" surrounded by angel wings, one of the studio's most popular designs.

For tattoo artist Beasley, etching the designs was a form of therapy.

The 32-year-old West Ashley resident works as a firefighter in the St. Andrews Fire Department every third day. He responded to the Sofa Super Store fire and helped rescue an employee from the side of the smoke-filled building.

He was one of 16 firefighters who entered the burning building and one of only seven who returned.

Beasley paused between strokes.

"You can talk to people you don't know all day, but talking to guys in the same situation — it's like talking to your family."

Reach Katy Stech at 937-5549 or kstech@postandcourier.com.



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Comments

This article has  20 comment(s)

Posted by sumvgrl on June 27, 2007 at 7:50 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Wow Mr. Huffman! You got to use your cute little catchphrase! What a shame we have such IGNORANT people in the world like you that actually think they have a clue!



Posted by svESinKW on June 27, 2007 at 8:06 a.m. (Suggest removal)

If it makes people feel better to get a tattoo, more power to them! How exactly does that hurt you, Mr. Huffman? The wonderful thing about this country is that if you don't want a tattoo, you don't have to have one. If only I could think of some cute phrase about intolerance and holier-than-thou snobbery. I doubt you are native to Charleston, but if you are, then shame on your parents for not teaching you more manners. God Bless the Fallen 9 and their families.



Posted by Amosturtle11 on June 27, 2007 at 8:45 a.m. (Suggest removal)

It just shows how ignorant one person can be. Let these men get their tattoos for their fallen brothers. Do you have personal issues with that Mr. Huffman? And if you do, who cares? None of those men and women who are firefighters really give a hoot what you (or anyone else for that matter) thinks. They are all heroes and the Charleston 9 deserve to be remembered anyway those firefighters see fit. So...take your comment and shove it!



Posted by mggoose2000 on June 27, 2007 at 9:24 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Mr. Huffman's comment reminds me of an old adage; "It is sometimes better to keep one's mouth (or keyboard, as in this case)shut and be percieved as a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt". Get a life, man! How does it matter to someone like you how these men and women deal with their grief? If you had a heart, you'd understand completely that this is a part of the healing process so that acceptance and getting on with life will follow! May God bless the fallen and their families and may he give those that were left behind the courage to cope and remember, always remember!



Posted by l_blanton562 on June 27, 2007 at 10:29 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I think it is very admirable that Blu Gorilla Tattoo Parlor is providing such a service to the firefighters. This is an honorable way for them to remember their brothers...and that is exactly what the Fire Dept is - A Family. So to Mr. Huffman and his ignorantly rude comment...I say this is not the place or the time to show his disgust for other peoples right to do whatever they want to do to themselves. Does he know for a fact that none of them had tattoos...and even if they didn't what does it matter. As a daughter and fiance of firefighters, I am so inclined to get one as well to add to the 3 tattoos I already have.
God does not like ugly Mr Huffman. And as for your comment about commen sense - common sense should have told you to keep your mouth shut!



Posted by AmazonRia on June 27, 2007 at 10:58 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I think it is great that Blue Gorilla Tattoo is offering this service to the firefighters. It is a living tribute to the tremendous sacrifice they have given - Their Life to save others. It's a very personal choice as well as the ability to display some very profound artwork that might not necessarily be seen otherwise. I myself have three very large tattoos, otherwise, I would probably go out and get a fourth one just to show my support and gratitude for what those Men gave so that others will be safe.

I agree with l_blanton562, Mr. Huffman should keep his opinions to himself. What goes around comes around. You may find yourself later on in life experiencing a personal tragedy and need the support of your community.



Posted by jifdeng3 on June 27, 2007 at 11:17 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Mr. Huffman, As a firefighter in the Charleston area I feel I have to say some thing here. First, is that a large number of us were going to get memorial ink done anyway. I was planning on it. The fact that Blue Gorilla is doing artwork for us is an honor, and very much appriciated. I am sorry that you are one of the many people that still hold a prejuduce against tattoos, but I can tell you this. When you need our help, we will be there, tattoos or no tattoos to help you in what ever situation may be going on. It would probably best serve for you to apologize to the scores of firemen, and women who you just offended and remember that this is one way that our band of brothers and sisters choses to deal with the pain of loosing family.



Posted by bo2575 on June 27, 2007 at 11:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

My dad was a City of Charleston firefighter for 30+ years. I chose a different career path because I saw how hard my dad had to work to make ends meet with the low pay that firefighters around here receive. Mr. Huffman had an opinion and voiced it, but isn't that whats great everyone is entitled to there own opinion. I feel that unless there is human life to be saved, no firefighter should ever enter a burning building let it burn, buildings are replaceable.



Posted by FFTANYA on June 27, 2007 at 1:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

FIRST OF ALL TO MR. HUFFMAN, DID YOU KNOW ANY OF THE NINE FALLEN FIREFIGHTERS WHO GAVE THEIR LIFE TO SAVE SORRY PEOPLE LIKE YOU. I KNEW TWO OF THEM AND I AM VERY PROUD OF ALL OF THEM. I AM A VOL FIREFIGHTER AND I TAKE PRIDE IN WHAT I DO. THANK GOD THERE ARE NOT MANY PEOPLE LIKE YOU IN THE CHARLESTON AREA. I AM HOPING THIS WAS A CASE OF OPEN MOUTH INSERT FOOT. THE FIREFIGHTERS ARE HURTING AND THEY ARE TRYING TO FIND A WAY TO HONOR THE FALLEN 9. BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN ARMS REMEMBERING THEIR COMRADES. EVIDENTLY YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT A TIGHT KNIT COMMUNITY FIREFIGHTERS ARE. WHEN ONE OF US HURTS WE ALL HURT. WE ARE BROTHERS AND SISTERS WITH A DEPPER BOND THAN ANYONE WILL EVER KNOW.



Posted by brivers on June 27, 2007 at 1:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"I am sorry that you are one of the many people that still hold a prejuduce against tattoos, but I can tell you this. When you need our help, we will be there, tattoos or no tattoos to help you in what ever situation may be going on. It would probably best serve for you to apologize to the scores of firemen, and women who you just offended and remember that this is one way that our band of brothers and sisters choses to deal with the pain of loosing family." - jifdeng3

*bows down*

You hit the nail on the head. We love you guys.



Posted by Donna920 on June 27, 2007 at 2:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

How sad it is to see someone so bitter& starved for attention that they feel need to ridicule others. Would you have been able to fight that fire Mr. Huffman? Would you willingly go into a situation where you might lose your life? These brave men gave their lives to save others. Their families will never be the same. Your comments were hurtful to everyone who mourns for the loss of these brave men. I pray for those who are hurting, and that includes you sir. I pray your heart changes and you show some compassion.



Posted by JonWithnal on June 27, 2007 at 2:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Classy.



Posted by cwgrl1085 on June 27, 2007 at 7:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It is so sad that someone would stoop as low as what Mr. Huffman did. Being a Firefighter's fiance i know the bond there is between firfighters. My fiance hurt and he was over 100 miles away in chesterfield county. Just think when we are out having fun eating a nice dinner at a restraunt or anything like that and his pager goes off guess what i either sit there by myself eating dinner or we leave our food and go. The reason i bring this up is because Firefighters dont care where they are or what they are doing when that tone goes off they are out the door to save a life so next time you want to say something STUPID about firefighter you better think twice it may be your sorry butt that they have to come save. So no there are not lacking any common sense you are!!! If the firefighters want to get the tattos i think they ought to it will be a great reminder of their fallen brothers.



Posted by OneLove on June 27, 2007 at 9:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

To all the readers who has read Mr. Huffman's nonsense just keep him in prayer as well. Anyone who would make such STUPID!!remarks must be suffering from some kind of illness..To the firefighters who got the tattoo and those who did not as well as the families I pray for restoration for all of you, May God's peace be with you all in your time of sorrow.



Posted by katiebo425 on June 27, 2007 at 10:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

We are all individuals and need to express our feelings and emotions differently. Firefighters are a unique group, a brotherhood, a very closely intertwined group. Losing these nine men was a tragedy and the tattoos represent the permanent effect that this tragedy has left many to deal with. Kudos to those that do this in rememberance of our local heroes. May we all use this tragedy to reflect on how short life is and make an effort to be nice to one another and pay forward good things that are done for us!



Posted by BJKROPP on June 27, 2007 at 11:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Mr. Doug Huffman, As a Captain of the Charleston Fire department I feel I have to say some thing here. First you did not know any of my brothers, one of the charleston 9 was my best friend who served this country in the U.S. Navy and he was proud of his tattos he had done during his service time. So get your facts straight before running off at the mouth.
We are proud of our fallen brothers and a large number of us were going to get memorial ink done to remember our friends and co-workers. Chief Thomas said we will never forget them and this is how some people will never forget them.



Posted by Girleygirl on June 28, 2007 at 1:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"I am sorry that you are one of the many people that still hold a prejuduce against tattoos, but I can tell you this. When you need our help, we will be there, tattoos or no tattoos to help you in what ever situation may be going on. It would probably best serve for you to apologize to the scores of firemen, and women who you just offended and remember that this is one way that our band of brothers and sisters choses to deal with the pain of loosing family." - jifdeng3

Mr. Huffman I dare you to say something stupid now.



Posted by myboyscrazy on June 28, 2007 at 11:05 p.m. (Suggest removal)

My soon to be husband has had both the pleasure of being a firefighter and working along side some of the men who gave their lives last week as well as having the honor of tattooing innumerable firefighters from all over our state this week. Why some individual would feel like his disrespectful, ignorant comment had a place here in this "family" is mindboggling. This has been the best thing for Steven as far as being able to let go and move on. It was the biggest mix of different departments I have ever witnessed outside of the memorial last week. You Mr. Huffman certainly don't have to understand their desire to honor their brothers in this manner but you absolutely should have kept your lack of intelligence to yourself.



Posted by Regee on June 30, 2007 at 2:03 a.m. (Suggest removal)

First of all my heart goes out to not just the 9 families but to all the firefigters that are still hurting today, tomorrow, and forever with the lose of so many.

That is my wonderful newphew in the photo on the top left and I, his Daddy, his brother, who both happen to be firefighers as well as my son in law, whom is a Volunteer firefigher in North Sioux City, South Dakota are VERY VERY PROUD of Jared, as well as all the firefigher's there that have to go on and protect every person that lives in the area.

I have no words for Mr Huffman as, I pray to God he never needs a firefighter as they will NOT HESITATE to run in and save him NO MATTER what he has stated above.

Jared (I love you baby), and every firefigher that is reading this just know we are there for you always, we love you and hurt for you.

May God be your guide.

Regee Harris
Omaha Nebraska



Posted by charleston_gal on October 8, 2007 at 9:42 a.m. (Suggest removal)

wow sumvgrl, i bet you have got to use your cute little catchphrase too - what goes around comes around. you talk about ignorant people - takes one to know one. i think you need to worry about your own life and keep out of other people's lives you backstabber. life is not a garden so stop being a hoe.




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