Remembering the Charleston 9: Still Riding

June 18, 2020
David Griffin says firefighters who still ride the apparatus in Charleston do so in honor of the Charleston 9.

Editor's note: Sunday, June 18, 2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the Charleston Super Sofa store fire that claimed nine Charleston firefighters.

As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the June 18, 2007, incident in Charleston, SC, where 9 great men, sons, fathers, firefighters, mentors, brothers, and friends perished, it’s important to reflect on the men and women of the department who stayed the course to ensure monumental progress.

While it has been a difficult time personally and professionally for the remaining members from that tragic day and for the new members who have joined our department since, progress has never slowed. We have pressed on tirelessly to become one of the most innovative fire departments in the country.

At times this has been exhausting, frustrating, heart-wrenching, and hundreds of other descriptive words I could use for a trying time. I will say this though, the members of the Charleston Fire Department (CFD) have never wavered in their efforts to make progress. The pride is on the walls in the stations, the look in the firefighters’ eyes when we train, the brotherhood that is exemplified when we do charity work, the pictures on the walls, the smells of the dinners, and most importantly, the streamlined and safer operations we have. However, we also know we must continue to learn and train to ensure we are focusing on the modern environment and that complacency doesn’t set in.

The respect of the members that are still riding the rigs after the fire is evident when you walk in the stations, whether they’re riding on an engine, an aerial, or in a chief’s vehicle.

Recently, while I was on shift on Engine 108, I visited the old central station that houses Engine 102 and Engine 103, which was the station I was assigned to my first six years on the job. When I walked in the stall to say hi to the fellas, I saw a chalk accountability board with the crews’ names on it. Nothing special, right? We see that in firehouses all across the country.

Well, this accountability board was very special. Next to the firefighters’ names was some type of small message honoring a fallen firefighter from around the country. The specific item that brought a tear to my eye and warmth in my heart were three little words written next to the captain’s name, “C9 STILL RIDING.” This means that he was in the department before the fire and is still riding the rig today to honor the 9.

Why is this important? In a department of over 300 personnel, there are only around 80 members who remain from June 18, 2007. From the initial alarm dispatched, there are just 3 of us. What a powerful message for the younger firefighters to see when they come to the station. On that visit to the old central station, we had a brand new firefighter. Literally, his first day on the rig. That’s powerful for him to see those words and to realize the history of the people he works with. 

Next to the other firefighter’s names on the accountability board were fallen firefighters’ names from around the country. They had chosen one to honor by riding the rig. This is a perfect example of the fortitude of the members before the fire and the ones who were hired after. All of these firefighters get on the rig each shift to honor not only the 9, but fallen firefighters everywhere. This is something that cannot be explained, only felt when you experience what we have.

Furthermore, we have hired over 400 firefighters, had two fire chiefs, and three interim fire chiefs since June 18, 2007. That’s an enormous cultural change. But you know what we do? We make progress and "still ride" because that’s the only way we know how to move forward. I am extremely proud of the brothers and sisters I work with in the Charleston Fire Department. We have all stayed the course no matter the difficulties presented. They are an incredible group of men and women.

For the ones “STILL RIDING”, God bless you and thank you for your perseverance and professionalism. To the new members who have joined since the fire, we are “STILL RIDING” because of the knowledge, experience, and passion you have brought to us over the last 10 years. Thank you as well for your diligence to make progress. In essence, everyone in the department is “STILL RIDING” because we’re here. We live it every day. 

Many people will wake up Monday June 19, 2017, and it will be over for them. They will go back to their normal lives. For the families of the 9 and for us in the CFD, when we wake up on Monday, June 19, 2017, it will be right there. Just like it has been for 10 years. Just like it will be forever. However, whether it’s a firefighter, driver, captain, training officer, or chief officer in the CFD, we will continue to honor the 9 because we are all “STILL RIDING”. That will never change. Period.

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