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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KILCOYNE: I already came out and went back in.

MORGAN: I didn't know what was going on. That's when you started hearing people on the radio and people saying I'm lost. I heard the prayer. I didn't hear them say tell my wife. I didn't hear that one, but I heard someone say the amen and go through that.

FIREHOUSE: Were you were still there at that point?

MORGAN: I was within 10 feet either way of the doorway. When I stood up is when that hose went soft. I wanted out. I was running low on air too. My vibra-alert didn't go off at that point, but it was close. I stood up, took two steps and that's when Captain Mark ran into me. He ran into me and he just said I'm out of air, I got the hose. That's all I could tell him and he was gone.

KILCOYNE: No, he was just running. He was running in that direction. What he said he did is he messed with this hose and he just picked the direction he thought that the door was and he was just running that way. Then he ran into me. It was just pure luck.

MORGAN: I never ran into him. Captain Mark hit me and that was the only thing I could think of to say is I have the hose. I wanted to get out of there just as quick as he did.

KILCOYNE: His mask was sucking to his face.

MORGAN: It was kind of tick, tick, tick. He was in my face and he scared me. That's all I could say to him was, I got the hose.

KILCOYNE: He ran into me.

FIREHOUSE: How did you get out?

MORGAN: I followed the hose.

KILCOYNE: He come out right behind us. You come out right behind us. Captain Mark and I come out. It was a matter of 15, 20 seconds after I'm going to go back in one more time and then I had 600 pounds. I got my bottle changed. By the time I got my bottle changed, we're talking about 40 seconds now, that whole building lit on fire. They started pulling the two and a half and we started playing the two and a half right there in the doorway. Chief Robert O'Donald and I tried to make entry with that two and a half and that wasn't going to happen. There was just too much fire. We played with that for a little while. My captain was going around to right side of the building where Engine Number 10 was located. I started taking an ax and opening up the tin on the side where they had the hoselines. I just worked my way all the way to the back where they were chopping at the rollup door. Where it wasn't opened up all the way, I would open it up as much as I could.

They started trying to figure out who's in the building that hadn't gotten out. We're thinking is now it's Louis (Mulkey) and his fireman. He's a brand-new fireman, his first day. They're all sitting there trying to figure out where these guys are. It just so happens that firefighter is standing right by me, and one of the other guys recognized him and they said no, he's right here. Now they're just thinking it's Louis in there.

Chief Thomas comes to my captain and gets me, Thad, Mark Davis and John Wynn and Robert O'Donald and he gets up a little group. The roof is already collapsed. They put a lot of the fire out and they're going to send us in on this right side of the building to locate Louis. There was a little area we could get in and get on top of the tin and there wasn't anything over our heads. It was still smoky, but it wasn't that bad. We started pulling the tin back. We're looking for Louis. Chief Robert said we're going to need a piece of equipment to get this moved. And I was sitting there. I said if we could just take it a little at a time, just kind of move it over, we could do that. We took a saw and started chopping the tin up and that wasn't working. There was a four-foot void all the way across the whole store, so what would we would do is pull back some of the tin and we would drop underneath and look.

FIREHOUSE: Is that because it was laying on the furniture?

KILCOYNE: It was laying on the furniture and on the trusses. We would get under there and take flashlights and look. We found a helmet, and the helmet had 19 on it. Someone must have lost that helmet.

FIREHOUSE: What company was Louis from?