Saturday, April 14, 2012

In Honor of the Charleston 9

On June 18, 2007, 9 firefighters died in the line of duty following a flashover and structural collapse at the Super Sofa Store in Charleston, South Carolina.  In their memory and honor, the site was transformed into a memorial park.

At the site where each man fell, a small monument was erected bearing his name and years of service.

This tragedy was the greatest single loss of firefighter lives in our country since 9/11.

I knew precious little of the incident when I went to this park.  I wish I had known more.  I found this incident timeline online today.  I just ask that you read it and remember these men.  Please note - this entire incident, from a call reporting a structure fire to the horrific loss of life, took only minutes.

  • 7:08 p.m. - First call reporting the fire is received.
  • 7:09 p.m. - Dispatched units: Charleston Fire Department Engine 10, Engine 11, Ladder 5 and Battalion 4.
  • 7:10 p.m. - Battalion 4 arrives on scene. Dispatched units: Car Charleston Fire Department Engine 16 and Car 2.
  • 7:11 p.m. - Engine 11 arrives first and reports a trash and debris fire that is up against the wall in the loading dock area, but that they have not yet entered the building to check for extension. Engine 10 and Car 2 arrive.
  • 7:12 p.m. - Ladder 5 arrives. Engine 12 is dispatched.
  • 7:13 p.m. - Engine 15 is dispatched. (approximate) Fire crews enter the showroom building and find no obvious fire, however some light smoke is visible near the ceiling tiles near where the fire burns outside. A door leading from the showroom to the loading dock area is opened by the Incident Commander, and the force of the fire pulls the door out of his hand. The inrush of oxygen feeds the fire and makes it impossible to close the door. Fire enters the showroom.
  • 7:14 p.m. - The Incident Commander reports fire in the showroom.
  • 7:15 p.m. - Engine 16 arrives and enters the showroom to join Ladder 5's crew attacking the fire from inside. Engine 19 is dispatched.
  • 7:16 p.m. - Charleston Fire Chief Rusty Thomas (Car 1) arrives, several off-duty firefighters also begin to arrive. Engine 6 is dispatched. Inadequate water supply begins to be a problem, which is compounded by some hoses being run over by passing vehicles.
  • 7:17 p.m. - Engine 12 and Engine 15 arrive.
  • 7:20 p.m. - Engine 19 arrives. Problems continue with the water supply.
  • 7:21 p.m. - Engine 6 arrives.
  • 7:24 p.m. - Battalion 5 arrives. St. Andrew Car 3 (from neighboring St. Andrews Public Service District) decided on their own to respond and soon request more help from St. Andrews crews.
  • 7:25 p.m. - St. Andrews Engine 2 and St. Andrews Rescue 1 arrive.
  • 7:26 p.m. - An employee of the Sofa Super Store calls 911 and reports that he is trapped in the warehouse building. The crew from St. Andrews is notified of the trapped employee and attempts to locate him from the outside.
  • 7:29 p.m. - (approximate) The trapped employee is rescued when the St. Andrews firefighters breach an exterior wall and pull him out of the building.
  • 7:31 p.m. - The first firefighters in the building have been breathing from their air bottles for approximately eighteen minutes and will soon run out of air. Conditions in the showroom continue to worsen while at least sixteen firefighters continue to work inside. Engine 3 is dispatched.
  • 7:32 p.m. - A firefighter inside calls "Mayday!" over his radio. Soon after, another voice on the radio is heard to say "Car One (Chief Thomas). Please tell my wife that ... 'I love you.'" Another firefighter inside is heard on the radio saying " Jesus's name, amen." Chief Thomas orders his commanders to account for their crews and is told that some firefighters remain inside. One firefighter attempting to escape is trapped behind the large glass in front of the showroom, and is freed when someone smashes it as other crews prepare to enter the building to rescue firefighters in distress. An emergency alert is activated on the radio of Ladder 5's engineer, who is inside, but calls to that radio go unanswered. Several PASS devices worn by firefighters are heard, meaning that firefighters in distress have manually activated them or have been motionless for at least 30 seconds. Firefighters begin smashing all of the glass in front of the store to allow escaping firefighters out and rescuing firefighters in, but this allows large amounts of oxygen to reach the fire, which quickly begins to grow in intensity.
  • 7:38 p.m. - Chief Thomas orders a full evacuation.
  • 7:40 p.m. - Engine 3 arrives.
  • 7:41 p.m. - (approximate) A flashover occurs. Virtually all of the interior of the showroom building erupts in fire within seconds. Chaotic radio traffic now ties up the radio channels, but calls about water supply problems continue. A final, unsuccessful attempt at rescue is made but quickly forced back by the intensity of the fire.
  • 7:45 p.m. - The front of the showroom building collapses, sending a fireball and smoke plume out the front of the building, over the heads of fleeing firefighters and showering hundreds of onlookers with ash and debris. Fire then shoots 30 feet (9 m) into the air as much of the rest of the structure collapses.
  • 10:00 p.m. - (approximate) After the fire is brought under control, the remains of two of the firefighters' bodies are found near the center of the building.
  • 10:45 p.m. - (approximate) Charleston Mayor Joe Riley announces that several firefighters remain missing.
  • 11:00 p.m. - (approximate) The bodies of two more firefighters are located about 30 feet (9 m) from the first group.
  • 11:15 p.m. - (approximate) Three firefighters' bodies are found at the South end of the building.
  • 4:00 a.m. - (approximate) The remaining two missing firefighters are located at the Northeast corner of the building.
  • The firefighters

    CompanyRankNameAgeYears of Service
    Engine 15CaptainLouis Mulkey3411½ years
    Engine 16CaptainMike Benke4930 years
    Engine 16FirefighterMelven Champaign462 years
    Engine 19CaptainWilliam "Billy" Hutchinson4830 years
    Engine 19EngineerBradford "Brad" Baity379 years
    Engine 19FirefighterJames "Earl" Drayton5632 years
    Tower 5EngineerMark Kelsey4012½ years
    Tower 5EngineerMichael French271½ years
    Tower 5FirefighterBrandon Thompson274 years

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