June 18th, 2007 undoubtedly began like so many other days in our lives, relatively uneventful; each of us following our daily routines, schedule and pace. Shifts were ending while the next ones were starting, roll calls commenced; apparatus and equipment checks were underway, coffee brewing, conversations in the day room, training drills or staff meeting beginning or the start of daily runs being taken in. For Charleston Fire Department Captains Billy Hutchinson, Mike Benke, and Louis Mulkey; Engineers Mark Kelsey and Brad Baity, Assistant Engineer Michael French; and Firefighters Earl Drayton, Melvin Champaign and Brandon Thompson, the day would be anything but routine.
During the evening hours of June 18, 2007, breaking news began to filter through various news outlets of an evolving tragedy in the city of Charleston, S.C. Unconfirmed reports began circulating, indicating a large commercial fire in a Sofa Super Store in Charleston had claimed the lives of several firefighters, although the exact number was still unknown. By the next morning, the smoke had cleared and the tragic facts were evident; that a total of nine firefighters had perished inside the Sofa Super Store. For Captains Billy Hutchinson, Mike Benke, and Louis Mulkey; Engineers Mark Kelsey and Brad Baity, Assistant Engineer Michael French; and Firefighters Earl Drayton, Melvin Champaign and Brandon Thompson, what started off as a routine fire and incident response, ended tragically with their line of duty deaths and a profound affect on so many within the CFD, the Charleston community and within the national fire service in the ensuing months that have passed.
Today marks the one year anniversary of the Sofa Super Store fire. It doesn’t seem like an entire year has passed, with so much happening since that tragic night and the continuing saga of the incident, the department and its operations, training and culture. Take the time today to remember and honor the Charleston 9, for their bravery, courage and duty, for the lives they lead and for the families that they left behind. Reflect on the events of June 18th and the lessons that can be gleaned from the 250-plus-page report that was released on May 15. Take the time to read the report, its recommendations and the lessons learned. Don’t think it can’t happen in your department, community or region.
Take the time to reflect on how you’re operating, your level of training, your attitude and those of your brother and sister firefighters as well as your officers and commanders. What’s the safety culture of your company, your organization or the community? Seek to identify opportunities and apply the lessons learned from the Charleston fire to improve on those situations or conditions that demand change. Remembering; There are NO routine fires, and sometimes, not everyone goes home, all the time.
Check out the resources on the EGH web site www.everyonegoeshome.com
and think about next week’s Fire/ EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week and the theme of “ Committed to Long Term Results”. According to the USFA, there were 115 LODD in 2007 and as of the most recent reports, 50 LODD in 2008 thus far. Everyone NEEDS to go home; we all need to do our part to ensure that happens. Stay safe…..