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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FIREHOUSE: You're following the line, but if you went just a foot?
KILCOYNE: You'd be in the furniture, because it was all around you. It had just a little narrow walkway that you could walk through. Just enough for me to fit through and the hose. I got all the way to the back. There are so many pumpers there at this time. There is a doorway going back to where the nozzle was where they were fighting the fire. I'm figuring there's a bunch of firemen right there. When I got to that point, I broke away from the line. I had a pike pole and I started pulling on the wall. There was a sheetrock wall that went all the way to the back. I walked over about I'd say between 10 and 20 feet. I took the pike pole, started ripping the wall. I must have hit that wall about four or five times. I'm reaching for the ceiling now and I thought I was pulling ceiling.
FIREHOUSE: Up to this point, did you actually go to the nozzle?
KILCOYNE: No, I'm just figuring there's a bunch of firemen here and there's no sense in me trying to fight my way.
FIREHOUSE: Did you hear any water flowing?
KILCOYNE: I couldn't hear the water. I just didn't know how many people were there. I didn't want to get mixed up with them. I just was gonna tear some of the wall out. I started feeling the heat. I'm gonna start seeing fire and I can holler back to these guys. I got fire on this end, is what I was thinking. But I hit it four or five times. A fireman comes up to me on my left side and grabbed me and he's in panic and said I'm running out of air and I'm lost. Then, at the same time, another firefighter comes up and then another one comes up to my chest. I can't remember who they are, but the one that comes up to my chest he just grabbed me, said I'm fixing to run out of air, I'm fixing to run out of air. I could grab one and one dropped down, went underneath my legs. This is in a matter of seconds that they just spun around and ran. The other one ran another way. I wasn't sure how many it was, but I know it was at least three. So they pulled away and went, and this one went and they were all in a panic. All of their vibra-alarms were going off, every one.
FIREHOUSE: Could you see them or could you just hear them?
KILCOYNE: No, you couldn't see. If I took a flashlight and put it on my mask, I couldn't even see the light.
FIREHOUSE: They just ran into you?
KILCOYNE: They just ran into me. It was just that quick. It was all of five seconds this happened in. It kind of got me turned around and I'm looking for the hose. I'm lost. I made like five circles back to the right. I backed up and I got into the furniture and I said no, I'm not getting in the furniture. I went back to where I was pulling the wall and I started making circles to the right. I made the sixth circle and I ran into the hose.
Right when I hit the hose, somebody else ran into me and said I'm running out of air, I'm running out of air and I'm lost. I don't know where I am. I grabbed him. I said I've got the hose right here. He knocked me off the hose, so it took me a minute to find the hose. I felt around. I found the hose again. I reached down, picked it up. I started walking back. I didn't know which way to go, so I started walking back. These guys coming up has really got my head kind of messed up. I started going back through a doorway with this guy. I have to be going the wrong way because I don't remember this doorway. I turned around on the hose and I started coming out. He kept on screaming. If he didn't say it one time, he said it 500 times, I'm fixing to run out of air.
I started walking and got about 20 feet. I said I got to be going the right way. I kept on going and going and I got about 20 feet from the door and you could hear the engine out front. Number 11 was out in the front. You could hear the engine. The fireman just broke away and ran for the door.
FIREHOUSE: Could you see then?