Late in the evening of June 18, 2007, Firehouse.Com began receiving reports of a tragedy in the city of Charleston, S.C.
Late in the evening of June 18, 2007, Firehouse.Com began receiving reports of a tragedy in the city of Charleston, S.C. Rumors swirled that a large fire 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 laid bare: nine firefighters had perished inside the Sofa Super Store. Here are the events that followed, and what's happened since the deadly and tragic blaze.
June 19: Word spreads that nine firefighters were killed in a fire at a South Carolina sofa store and warehouse the night before. "Nine brave, heroic, courageous firefighters of the city of Charleston have perished fighting fire in a most courageous and fearless manner, carrying out their duties," says Charleston Mayor Joe Riley. Later on, the weight of the tragedy sinks in as the names of the nine men are released.
June 20: Mourners begin to flock to the doors of Charleston fire stations, bringing flowers and cards. Among the things left is a poem dedicated to the memories of the firefighters. A store employee talks about his dramatic rescue by a firefighter whose name he wouldn't know for months.
June 21: Just a few days after the blaze, questions are already beginning to arise about whether proper procedure was followed. Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten rules on the deaths of the nine firefighters, citing smoke inhalation and extensive burns. Mayor Joseph Riley says he is confident the department followed proper procedures, but an investigation is necessary. It is revealed that the sofa store had no sprinklers and was exempt from new state building codes. As more details emerge about what went on inside the burning sofa store, Chief Rusty Thomas sits down with Firehouse.Com Writer Susie Nicol Kyle to talk about the pain left by the firefighters' absence. Some reflect on the deaths as nationwide, departments recognize Fire and EMS Safety Stand Down . A brother of one of the Charleston 9 talks about his loss.
June 22: Thousands flock to Charleston for a memorial service to honor the fallen firefighters. A line of flag-draped caskets stretches out in front of the North Charleston Coliseum. Firehouse.Com Reporter Susie Nicol Kyle liveblogs the ceremony. Frantic phone calls alerting authorities to the blaze are made public when the 911 tapes are released.
June 23: It's revealed that the fire that claimed the lives of the Charleston 9 started in the sofa store's loading dock area . However, officials warn the investigation is far from over.
June 25: Firehouse.Com Writer Susie Nicol Kyle offers an in-depth look at the bond the fallen firefighters shared in her story Charleston Firefighters Lived, Died Together
June 26: First chapters of the tragedy begin to close as the firefighters are laid to rest . Meanwhile, the investigation gets more complicated as it's revealed that Charleston's safety guidelines differed from federal safety guidelines. Susan Nicol Kyle reported that investigators from NIST were on the scene, collecting data that could be used in the event of a technical probe.
June 28: With all 9 of the fallen Charleston firefighters buried, a team of experts headed to Charleston to care for the brothers they left behind. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation offered its support to local grief counselors to help deal with the aftermath of the June 18 tragedy.
August 10: Charleston Mayor Riley selects a team of six fire-rescue professionals to take an in-depth look how the deadly blaze was handled. The team was to take a close look at department procedures to see what, if anything, needed to be changed or improved upon. Also, the release of more than 900 radio transmissions by the city of Charleston made public the last words of the fallen firefighters.
August 17: The preliminary panel appointed by Mayor Riley releases its recommendations. The group calls for the appointment of safety officer and an assistant to the chief.
September 5: For the first time ever, the owner of the Sofa Super Store speaks out about how he's been affected by the June 18 blaze. "I went from having the perfect life that couldn't have been better to total misery now," Herb Goldstein said.
September 14: Engine 6 Engineer William "Billy Bob" Kilcoyne talks to Firehouse.Com. If it weren't for Kilcoyne's heroic efforts the death count would have been more than nine.
September 18: On the three-month anniversary of the blaze, Charleston Mayor Riley issues his report to the city on the status of the investigation into the fire. "We want to learn and we want others to learn from this tragic incident," he says.
October 17: Phase 1 of a report from a panel of fire experts called on by Mayor Riley is released. Chief Rusty Thomas said he was ready to get to work on changes suggested.
December 3: The city of Charleston will pay $3,160 in fines but admits no wrongdoing in the fatal fire. Citations accuse the city of failing to enforce requirements on protective gear and breathing equipment. The city was also faulted for its written procedures for command at fires. Charleston had initially faced four charges, but was only fined for two as a result of a controversial settlement. "This settlement is a travesty," said president of the International Association of Fire Fighters union Harold Shaitberger. He said the city should have spent time improving the department, not negotiating the settlement.
January 10: The Charleston Fire Department releases a report detailing changes they have made since the sofa store fire. The department announced that new breathing apparatus and turnout gear were ordered. Additionally, a new pumper and five-inch hose had been purchased. Members of the panel of experts selected by Mayor Riley said they were pleased with the progress that had been made. "Things take time, and some things take longer than others," said panel chairman Gordon Routley.
March 3: Charleston Fire Chief Rusty Thomas says despite criticism over how the fire was handled, "I will not leave here." Thomas' critics say they question whether he can do a thorough job revamping the department. "He needs to go," says president of the South Carolina Professional Firefighters Association Michael Parrotta.
May 14: Chief Rusty Thomas announces his resignation from the department, saying it was best for he and his family for him to step down. Mayor Riley said that Thomas' departure should not be seen as an admission of responsibility. Also, two families of fallen firefighters file suit against the sofa store's owner, several manufacturers and other companies accusing them in the deaths of their family members. Three other families had already filed similar lawsuits.
May 15: The second half of a report put together by the mayor-appointed team of fire experts is released. The report cites water issues, inadequate training and the culture of the department, among other things. An emotional chief accepted responsibility for the lives that were lost, saying: "I'm so sorry that myself or somebody could not have done something differently that night to bring back those nine guys." That same day, a shaken Thomas shares details about his fallen crewmembers last moments with the families they left behind.
May 21: Mayor Riley announces that Assistant Chief Ronnie Classen will take over as acting chief when Thomas leaves his post in June. Classen has been with the department since 1971.