Memorial, HQ Planned for Charleston Site

The site where nine city firefighters died in 2007 may be transformed into a memorial as well as a training and education facility.

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The site where nine city firefighters died in 2007 may be transformed into a memorial as well as a training and education facility.

It also may be the new address of the Charleston Fire Department.

A commission that included members of the Fallen 9 firefighters' families unveiled their plans to Mayor Joe Riley and city council members Tuesday night.

On June 18, 2007, nine firefighters were killed while battling a blaze in the Sofa Super Store.

They included 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 proposed memorial would include specific markers where each body was recovered, explained Fire Chief Tom Carr.

"I think it will be a beautiful memorial. They came up with a wonderful idea," Carr said Wednesday. "It's very fitting..."

The chief said the commission understands that the economy is tough right now, and funds are not available. He added that he hopes private donors will help.

"Things were very positive last night," he said. "The commission and many were upbeat about the project when they presented it..."

Efforts to reach Jimmy Bailey, commission chairman, were unsuccessful Wednesday.

In addition to the garden-like memorial, Carr said it's proposed that the U-shaped structure will have offices as well as rooms for training. "It will be a community services' building."

The department's administration offices are now housed on the second floor of the historic fire station downtown.

"We all realize there's a lot of work to be done," he said.

Two men who lost brothers on June 18 have other ideas for the site, now owned by the city.

Jeffery Thompson said he would like to see a heroes' park that would honor not only the Charleston 9, but EMS crews, police officers and soldiers.

"I feel it's hallowed ground," he said of the location where his brother, Brandon, died.

"It's a place for reflection not operation."

Randy Hutchinson said he would prefer if they planted nine trees. He said he'd rather see money used for the fire department.

Hutchinson, who lost his brother Billy in the blaze, said he still feels people need to be accountable for their actions. "That's what I'm working on..."

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