Louis Mulkey was 34 years old. He was a Captain with 11.5 years service
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Thousands attend service to honor 9 firefighters killed in blaze By BRUCE SMITH – Associated Press Writer
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. –Nine caskets lined the front of a coliseum Friday as thousands of firefighters from across the nation, their hats in their hands as bagpipes played, honored nine colleagues who died battling a furniture store blaze.
Monday night’s fire created the single largest loss of firefighters’ lives since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The faces of its victims looked out from large photos set beside each casket: Capt. William “Billy” Hutchinson, 48; Capt. Mike Benke, 49; Capt. Louis Mulkey, 34; Mark Kelsey, 40; Bradford “Brad” Baity, 37; Michael French, 27; James “Earl” Drayton, 56; Brandon Thompson, 27; and Melvin Champaign, 46.
A procession of fire trucks wound through the streets in their honor Friday, and outside the North Charleston Coliseum, more than 250 firefighters formed a human passageway for the men’s family members, each wearing a red carnation, to enter the service with uniformed escorts.
“When we lose one, it affects us all,” said Lt. James Diego, who drove from the Newport News, Va., Fire Department with several colleagues. “Most of us have suffered some sort of loss in our careers, and it’s a way to pay back the people who supported us when we had a line of duty death.”
Black bunting hung over the lighted signs around the 9,000-seat arena, and officials planned to broadcast the service to screens outside and inside an adjacent performing arts center and nearby convention center.
Nearby, a retired Marine stood with an American flag.
“I joined the Marine Corps when a couple of these kids were just being born. If that don’t make you cry, you’re not a human being,” said Robert Turner, 47. “These guys do the same thing that we did in the Marine Corps. It’s all duty. It’s all honor. It’s all for your country or for somebody else. You don’t join the service to get rich. You don’t become a firefighter to get rich.”
Among those expected for the service were former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee – both presidential candidates – as well as Barbara Richardson, wife of Democratic New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is also running.
But South Carolina Firefighters Association President Joe Palmer said dignitaries would be seated at the back, well away from firefighters’ families.
“This event is about the firemen who were lost – honoring them and their families. It is not a political event and shouldn’t be politicized in any way,” said Jeff Zack, a spokesman for the International Association of Firefighters. He said firefighters were coming from as far as Arizona and Alberta, Canada.
The investigation into the warehouse fire was still under way Friday.
Officials on Thursday released tapes of several 911 calls about the fire. While federal investigators have not confirmed where the blaze, some of the 10 recordings bolster the assertion several city fire officials have made that it likely started at the back of the store in a covered space between the showroom and a warehouse crammed with furniture.
A store employee told The Associated Press that workers frequently smoked cigarettes in that area and were strongly cautioned to carefully throw them away.
Federal investigators have not discussed possible causes for the fire, and have not revealed if they are considering whether a cigarette could have started the blaze.
“We have made fantastic progress in this investigation, however, it still has to be a very systematic, deliberate investigation,” said Earl Woodham, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
In a gesture of solidarity, medics from the Framingham, Mass., Fire Department hung their department T-shirt at a makeshift memorial outside the charred store.
Before the service, a long procession of about 100 fire trucks wound through streets lined with mourners, passing firehouses and the gutted furniture store on its way to the memorial service. The first of the nine funerals was planned for later Friday.
Back to web version Friday, Jun 22, 2007 Posted on Thu, Jun. 21, 2007 ‘When I heard them, it was like sweet angels calling for me’ By NOELLE PHILLIPS firstname.lastname@example.org
CHARLESTON — For two minutes Monday night, Jonathan Tyrrell III lay on the floor of a furniture workshop, banging a hammer against a wall and praying someone would find him before he died.
He had briefly spoken to a Charleston Fire Department dispatcher, telling him he was trapped in the building and describing his location.
“Y’all’ve got to get me out of here. I’ve got a wife and child,’” Tyrrell cried into the phone.
Then, the phone signal died.
So Tyrrell, 28, stretched flat on his workshop floor, alternating screams for help with prayers to God.
And he kept banging that hammer against the wall.
It seemed like an eternity. But within two minutes of the phone call, firefighters had smashed a hole in the workshop wall with axes.
“When I heard them, it was like sweet angels calling for me.”
Tyrrell made a dash for the hole. He felt two pairs of strong hands hauling him out. He was too lightheaded to focus on his rescuers’‘faces. One had red hair. Another had a tattoo.
They carried him to emergency medical workers.
Tyrrell had been working in the Super Sofa Store repair shop when the store and its adjoining warehouse caught fire sometime after 6 p.m. Monday. Alone in the workshop, Tyrrell did not know the building was on fire until a whiff of smoke wafted through the room. He saw sandpaper and paper towels flutter from the fire’s pressure building in the warehouse.
That’s when he opened the workshop doors to find the only escape route — the warehouse — engulfed by flames.
Tyrrell said he closed the door and then started thinking about his death.
“I had all kinds of thoughts. I wouldn’t see my little girl or my wife or my family. I was thinking, ‘This is it.’”
Just as he was ready to give up, thoughts of his 5-year-old daughter, Alexis, and his wife, Toni, gave him a burst of energy.
That’s when Tyrrell started yelling, banging his hammer and trying to pull an air conditioner unit off the wall. Throughout the ordeal, he continually dialed 911, hoping he would get a signal.
On Wednesday, he called his survival a miracle.
He estimates he was inside the burning building for up to 30 minutes. Not a single hair was singed and he suffered no lung damage from smoke inhalation.
Tyrrell works full-time at his family’s business, Quality Upholstery, on Johns Island; he worked at the sofa store part-time in the evenings to earn extra money for medical bills. He suffers from joint pains that require constant medication.
The family upholstery business is inside a grey cinderblock building, tucked between his and his parents’ homes. The family is close, and faithful to God and their church.
Jonathan Tyrrell Jr. said the family will be forever thankful to fireman and other rescue workers who saved his son. He was at a Monday night prayer service when the fire started and learned afterwards that his son had been trapped.
“I thank God for the firemen and the 911 dispatcher,” his father said. “We’ve got true heroes in this city. They brought back my boy.”
The whole family stopped by firehouses Tuesday and Wednesday to thank those who risked everything to save Tyrrell. However, Tyrrell has not met the two firemen who pulled him from the burning building. He wants to give them time to mourn their fallen firefighters but hopes to soon thank them in person.
Two days after the fire, Tyrrell said he struggles to wrap his mind around the tragedy.
“It makes me feel special in way because there are complete strangers who risked their lives for me.
“But, in a way, I’m not that special for nine firefighters to have died.”
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307. The Charlotte Observer contributed.
© 2007 TheState.com and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. http://www. thestate.com/
To donate to firefighters’ families Originally published 09:42 p.m., June 19, 2007 Updated 01:58 p.m., June 21, 2007
Here are some opportunities to give:
Bank of America: Anyone wanting to donate money to the firefighters’ families can make a donation at any branch or send money to: The City of Charleston Firemen’s Fund, P.O. Box 304, Charleston, SC 29402.
First Federal: The Charleston Firefighters Memorial Fund was opened Monday at First Federal in response to the tragic loss of nine Charleston firefighters the preceding evening. The bank opened the account with $5,000 in a show of support for the families of the firefighters and the heroic firefighters community. The public is invited to join First Federal by making a donation in any First Federal office. The funds will be used to assist the families of those whose lives were lost fighting the fire at the Sofa Super Store on Savannah Highway in Charleston. Checks may also be mailed to: First Federal, c/o Linda Weber, 2440 Mall Dr., North Charleston, S.C. 29406.
Trident United Way: The agency will match the first $10,000 contributed to the City of Charleston Firemen’s Fund to encourage support for the families and co-workers of the nine firefighters killed in Monday’s tragedy.
Piggly Wiggly: The ‘Charleston Fallen Firefighter’ Fund has been created raise money in support of the families of the firefighters who died. Customers can make a donation to the fund at the register during checkout. Piggly Wiggly will be kicking off the fund with a $10,000 donation.
Southcoast Community Bank: The bank has announced the creation of the Southcoast Firefighter’s Relief Fund to support the families of the victims from the fire. Southcoast will initially fund the account with $1,000. Additional donations in the form of cash and checks will be accepted at all ten Southcoast Community Bank branches in the Charleston area. For additional information, please contact Southcoast Community Bank at (843) 884-0504 or www.southcoastbank.com.