Charleston Fire: Last Man Out

Harvey Eisner interviews the last survivor from the Charleston sofa factory store fire.


Nine Charleston, SC, firefighters died in a fire in a furniture store on June 18, 2007. In the preparation of this article, Firehouse ® Magazine was given permission to talk to only a select number of Charleston firefighters. We do not yet have the entire story nor do we presume to have any...


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Nine Charleston, SC, firefighters died in a fire in a furniture store on June 18, 2007. In the preparation of this article, Firehouse® Magazine was given permission to talk to only a select number of Charleston firefighters. We do not yet have the entire story nor do we presume to have any conclusions at this time. All the facts are not in. These interviews are intended only to shed some light into the fatal fire and operations that were conducted before and after the fire.

The following interview was conducted by Firehouse® Editor-in-Chief Harvey Eisner with Charleston Firefighter Bill Kilcoyne, the driver of Engine 6, who has 23 years of service, and Firefighter Thad Morgan of Engine 6, who has seven months of service.

FIREHOUSE: How did your company respond to the fire?

KILCOYNE: We ended up being the sixth engine.

FIREHOUSE: It's a pretty good ride?

KILCOYNE: A five-minute run.

FIREHOUSE: Did you relocate or cover another station?

KILCOYNE: We relocated to Engine 11.

FIREHOUSE: Did you hear the fire being dispatched over the radio?

KILCOYNE: We heard everything going on.

FIREHOUSE: What did they say?

KILCOYNE: They said that they had a fire in the rear of the Super Sofa store, 1807 Savannah Highway. The battalion chief got there and said it was trash up against the building and it didn't appear to be inside. The assistant chief got there at the same time and said it is in the building. They were calling the other pumpers. They called 12 and then 16. Then 15 started relocating and we relocate after 15. We turned on Spring Street. They said Number 6 come to the fire.

FIREHOUSE: How far away from the scene were you then?

KILCOYNE: We had just left the station.

FIREHOUSE: Things were happening very fast?

KILCOYNE: Really fast. They said for us to go ahead and relocate to Number 11, and they called 19 into the fire. So 19 went. As soon as we got over the bridge, we could see the black smoke. It was jet black. They called for Number 6 to come to the fire for manpower and come into the front of the building. When we got there, my captain and the firemen were already dressed. I was still in my regular uniform. They took off and went to the front of the building.

FIREHOUSE: When you were arriving at the building, you saw a tremendous column of smoke?

KILCOYNE: It was heavy black smoke coming out and dropping down Savannah Highway. That fire was burning pretty good.

FIREHOUSE: What's the captain's name?

KILCOYNE: Captain Mark Davis.

FIREHOUSE: And who was the other firefighter?

KILCOYNE: Thad Morgan.

FIREHOUSE: When you got to the scene, you parked out on the street?

KILCOYNE: We're in the middle of Savannah Highway on the median.

FIREHOUSE: As you approached the scene, what was going on out in front?

KILCOYNE: Engine 11 was parked in the front. They went ahead and I was a couple of minutes behind them. I was walking up to the engineer pumping Number 11. I said, boy, that's a bad fire. The captain of Number 11 was coming out. I got to the front door and there was a man standing there and I'm not sure who this man is. I don't know if he was the owner or the manager. He said somebody's inside the building because his car is still in the parking lot. I said, there's firemen in there right now and I'm fixing to go in. I threw my mask on, grabbed my pike pole.

FIREHOUSE: Were the windows still in?

KILCOYNE: All the windows were still in. Smoke was rolling out the front. When you went into the front door, the smoke was tailing to the back. I mean it was just pulling to the back. It kind of made a little silhouette of the doorway, about five feet in and then it went jet-black smoke. I went in and I was dragging my foot on the line and I got in about 20 feet. I reached down and picked up the line and followed the line and went all the way to the back of the store.

FIREHOUSE: As you're following the hoseline, can you feel furniture on either side?

KILCOYNE: You're walking in a little pathway of furniture. It's just not straight back. It's just swerving.

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