CHARLESTON — A blaze that started in a warehouse area of the former Sofa Super Store on Savannah Highway killed nine Charleston firefighters on June 18, 2007. Three of the nine were from Summerville.
Monday marks the fifth year since the tragedy, and the Charleston Fire Department will hold a memorial service for the fallen 7 p.m. at the site, now the home of a memorial park at 1807 Savannah Hwy.
The short memorial service will begin with a procession of firefighters, followed by a bagpiper and James Smith performing the song he wrote in memory of the Charleston 9.
"He performed at the first memorial for them," Charleston Fire Department Public Information Officer Mark Ruppel said.
Following Smith's performance the names of each of the firefighters killed will be read off, followed by the ringing of a bell.
"It's the same program we've done each of the past four years," Ruppel said.
The memorial is open to the public and those attending are encouraged to stay after the service and get to know members of the Department, Ruppel said.
Those killed in the fire were James "Earl" Drayton, a 32-year veteran of the Department and member of Engine 19; Engineer Rodney "Brad" Baity, a 9-year veteran and another member of Engine 19; Cpt. Louis Mulkey, a 12-year veteran and member of Engine 15; Brandon Thompson, a 4-year veteran and member of Engine 10 detailed to Ladder 5; Engineer Mark Kelsey, a 13-year veteran and member of Engine 10 detailed to Ladder 5; Cpt. William "Billy" Hutchinson, a 30-year veteran and member of Engine 19; Melvin Champaign, a 2-year veteran and member of Engine 16; Assistant Engineer Michael French, a first year fire fighter and member of Engine 16 and detailed to Ladder 5; and Cpt. Michael "Mike" Benke, a 28-year veteran and member of Engine 16.
French, Mulkey and Thompson were from Summerville.
In memory of that tragic event Gov. Nikki Haley has asked that all flags in the state are lowered today. On her Facebook page stated the following:
"I have lowered the flags in honor of the Charleston 9 Firefighters who sacrificed their lives. Please say a prayer, and thank all first responders for always taking the call without hesitation. May God Bless you! Thank you to the families for your support of the sacrifices they continue to make for us daily."