Safety and Survival Seminar Honors 'Charleston 9'

The nation's top fire service instructors will be in Charleston in late April to share their expertise.

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Some of the nation's top fire service instructors will be in town here in late April to share their expertise.

The Charleston Fire Department Memorial Safety and Survival Seminar -- slated for April 26-27 -- is open to emergency services personnel across the country. Proceeds from the conference will benefit a memorial to nine Charleston firefighters killed in the June blaze in a furniture store.

"The Charleston Fire Department is honored that this event is being organized. We are hopeful that firefighters from all across the country will come and participate and pay tribute to our fallen brothers," said Chief Rusty Thomas.

The agenda will mirror a similar program held in Worcester following the tragic deaths of six firefighters in 1999.

The heroes who perished in the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse on Dec. 3, 1999 included Leutienants Thomas E. Spencer and James F. Lyons III, and firefighters Paul A. Brotherton, Jeremiah M. Lucey, Timothy P. Jackson and Joseph T. McGuirk.

During the Charleston seminar, instructors will lecture on fire ground responsibility, use of thermal imagers, training RIT personnel and being prepared for a myriad of challenges.

For some of the presenters, the symposium is personal.

After Sept. 11, some of the Charleston firefighters traveled to New York City to lend a hand. Bonds were formed, and the relationships continued.

"They came up and helped us, and we were in Charleston last June. Two of the guys, now officers, came up as kids and rode with us," said Nick Giordano, a former FDNY firefighter who is coordinating the effort.

The Charleston officers who headed north to ride along in the Big Apple were Deputy Chief Bobby O'Donnell and Battalion Chief Joey Roberts.

Giordano said networking and sharing ideas are every bit as important as the seminars. It's a lasting experience.

"There's a phenomenal level of expertise on tap. These are nationally known guys. It will be a great opportunity'"

The instructors are donating their time, and paying their own way to honor the Charleston 9. And, the city is doing its part by offering rooms at special rates.

Giordano said a memorial is important. He said people should never forget the sacrifices of the Charleston 9 who perished on June 18, 2007.

"They deserve a fitting memorial. Twenty years from now, people should be able to visit it, and know the story'"

The Charleston 9 include 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.

Firefighters in Worcester know just how important it is to learn, carry on, and never forget their fallen heroes.

In the aftermath of their tragedy, fire officials reached out to experts to learn about firefighter safety and RIT.

Initial response to the first seminar was slow, and a nerve-retching time for organizers. At the last minute however, registrations came rolling in.

More than 1,000 personnel from the United States and Canada showed up for the two day seminars, said Capt. Kevin Maloney.

The program was so successful that it was expanded to three days, and hands-on training was included.

While the initial program focused on firefighter rescue techniques, others included technical rescue scenarios, WMD, and auto extrication.

Money garnered from the seminar was ear-marked for a memorial to honor the fallen heroes.

The second symposium -- slated for a month after Sept. 11 -- was held as planned even though there was discussion of canceling it.

"We were encouraged to go ahead with it. So, we proceeded. But, we gave the money to the FDNY families," Maloney said, adding that it was an emotional time for everyone involved.

Lessons learned from the seminar have been invaluable. A crew from New Jersey encountered a blaze in a structure similar to one that claimed the Worcester 6.

"They kept them from the same fate," the captain said.

The safety seminar attracted people from at least 27 states and Canada as well as throughout New England. Volunteer companies as well as combination and career departments sent personnel to participate.

In April in Charleston, Maloney and other Worcester officers will take a look at how their department has changed since that tragic night in December/ Their symposiums have ended. The effort has become known as "6 4 6" -- six seminars for six fallen.


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