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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FIREHOUSE: Thad, can I get your perspective? When you entered, did you go in with the captain?

MORGAN: Yes, sir.

FIREHOUSE: When you came across the street, what did it look like in the store? Did you take a look? Did you see the column of smoke coming up? As you were walking towards the front, what did you see from the store windows or anything from the door?

MORGAN: It was smoke, black.

FIREHOUSE: What size hose was going inside?

KILCOYNE: When we come in, it was an inch and a half and a booster going to the back. They tried to get a two and a half in there. The two and a half and the booster didn't go all the way to the back. They tied two lines together, that's why they had so much hose. That was the first time 19's has ever been called in front of us and they lost every one of their guys. We've always responded before 19, always.

FIREHOUSE: When you go in with the captain, do you follow this line?

MORGAN: Yes, sir, follow the inch and a half.

FIREHOUSE: How was the visibility when you went inside?

MORGAN: When you walked in the front door, you really couldn't see. You could see the hose maybe five feet in.

FIREHOUSE: As you enter, is it easy to find your way or is it tough as you're following the hose?

MORGAN: It zigzags, it just snakes back in there. If you stay on the hose, it was OK. We ran into a couple of people right here and we got kicked off the hose because people were just coming out.

KILCOYNE: 11's crew was good coming out.

FIREHOUSE: The captain and Thad were a little bit ahead of you?

KILCOYNE: Maybe a minute and a half ahead of me. I was the last one to go in the building on air.

FIREHOUSE: When you go with the captain, you ran into these guys going out. Did you make it all the way to the nozzle?

MORGAN: We made it all the way into that room. The nozzle was kind of coiled up right by the door.

FIREHOUSE: Could you see it?

KILCOYNE: The captain was on the nozzle.

MORGAN: He could see it.

FIREHOUSE: Was he ahead of you?

MORGAN: He was in front. He said go back, give me more hose.

FIREHOUSE: So he had the nozzle and you were feeding him line?

MORGAN: Yes, it was all coiled in and you just couldn't throw it in there. I was sitting on the ground and I was just grabbing what I could and just trying to just pull.

FIREHOUSE: How were the conditions there at that time?

MORGAN: It wasn't hot. You still couldn't see, there was nothing that I heard or saw that told me things were going wrong.

FIREHOUSE: Did you hear anything come over the radio?

MORGAN: I heard people, they needed water. All you could hear were people going back and forth about water. They were telling different engines where to go. It was a couple of minutes I was pulling and it just finally got to the point where it was pointless. I couldn't pull anything else because I was just tugging every damn piece of furniture in there. When I started realizing it was going bad, it was a firefighter who ran me over. He just ran over me and hit me and I mean it didn't faze him one bit.

FIREHOUSE: Were you standing up? Were you kneeling down?

MORGAN: I was kneeling down.

FIREHOUSE: You were kneeling down. He ran into you?

MORGAN: I was just pulling as much as I could and whoever hit me, you figure someone hit you at that speed, someone would try to stop or say what's going on. He just hit me and then he was gone.

FIREHOUSE: Did you get knocked over?

MORGAN: I mean I got knocked to the side. He knocked the hell out of me.

FIREHOUSE: Did anything come over the radio at that time?

MORGAN: It was about a minute after that, when I heard someone say Mayday. That's when you heard the chief and he said everyone get off the radio, somebody is calling Mayday. My first thing was it might have been whoever just ran by me. The dispatch was going back and forth about who it might have been. They said someone did hit their Mayday button. I didn't hear who it was, but they said someone hit their Mayday button and that's when Chief Holmes told everyone get off the radio and was trying to figure who was hitting the Mayday button. A minute or two. It's time to go. We started losing water in the hose.