Charleston 9 Families Hear of Last Moments

There was no incident commander at the June 18 fire that claimed 9 firefighters.

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Families of the Charleston 9 today learned about their loved ones' last moments and heard from the man who was supposed to have been in control that horrific day.

Embattled Chief Rusty Thomas, who announced his retirement on Wednesday, was emotional as he addressed the families.

"He broke down. He said he wished he could have done things differently that day so the outcome would have been better," said Mike Campbell, a cousin of Michael French, who died in the June 18 blaze.

Campbell said Thomas also vowed to continue his support for the families and the fire department. "He also read a message of sympathy from his family."

Campbell, a Charleston firefighter, said Thomas' remarks were poignant. "I give him respect and credit. I think there's still a lot of support for him. He did a lot of good things for the fire department."

Thomas left immediately afterward. He did not stay around for the presentation.

Campbell was impressed by the panel's presentation. "I was very thorough. They did a great job."

Randy Hutchinson, whose brother Billy also died in the fire, also complimented the group, headed by Gordon Routely.

"They did a fine job explaining," he said.

Hutchinson went on to say that it was difficult, but necessary for him to listen to the presentations. "It was unbelievable to see..."

A former Charleston firefighter, Hutchinson said the lack of an incident commander spelled disaster early on. "Different people were giving different orders. There was no incident commander whatsoever."

The report also confirmed what he had been told earlier -- there were 16 men in the building with only an inch-and-a-half and a booster. "From what I saw, some including Billy, never held a charged hose."

The families were handed copies of the document after the presentation which lasted nearly two hours.

Routely and other panel members said they will be available over the next two days to answer questions.