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PHOTO GALLERY: Remembering each of the Charleston 9

Charleston 9

Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the Sofa Super Store fire, which tragically claimed the lives of nine Charleston Fire Department firefighters

The nine men perished June 18, 2007, when the furniture store's roof collapsed, trapping them inside.

Members of the Charleston Fire Department shared fond memories of each fallen firefighter in the days leading up to the anniversary of the somber anniversary.

Below are excerpts from those stories of the Charleston 9, who made the ultimate sacrifices to protect the lives and property of those in their community.

CAPT. MIKE BENKE
by Battalion Chief Michael Hanuscin

Theodore Michael “Mike” Benke entered the Charleston Fire Department on March 19, 1979. He rose through the ranks of the department and was promoted to Captain on July 11, 1995. During his career with the CFD he served at: Station 10 where he was assigned to Engine 10 and Ladder 14, Station 11, Station 3, Station 9, and finally at Station 16 assigned as Captain on Engine 16.
As an engineer Mike believed in keeping the apparatus and equipment clean at all times and ready for service. He was known to be diligent and keenly detailed about the apparatus in his charge. When Mike was promoted to Captain and assigned to Engine 9, I had the privilege of being his Engineer. As a Captain he would capitalize on each of his crew members’ strengths and help to improve their weaknesses. He was soft spoken at times, but when he needed to get his point across, there was no mistaking the importance of his message.

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CAPT. WILLIAM "BILLY" HUTCHINSON
by Assistant Chief Raymond Lloyd

Captain William “Billy” Hutchinson was a lifelong Charleston area resident. He was born in Charleston on October 17, 1958. Billy graduated from Middleton High School and entered the Charleston Fire Department on August 4, 1977.
I remember that every time I saw Billy he was smiling. He had that type of demeanor about him. Billy was in Engine 12 under the supervision of Captain Phil Hawkins. He got along with the crew and liked being in Engine 12 on the back of the truck, just being a firefighter. Captain Phil encouraged him to become a third driver and Billy worked to be promoted, making assistant engineer in 1981. He was then transferred to Engine 10. While in Engine 10 he worked again on being promoted to engineer and achieved that promotion in 1981.

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CAPT. LOUIS MULKEY
by Battalion Chief Larry Hood

For those of you who didn’t know Louis, he was many things to many people; a firefighter, coach, leader, mentor, teacher, friend, and practical joker. Louis loved sports and was an extremely competitive person. He attended Newberry College in 1993 after graduating Summerville High School. However, distractions, like those that affect many kids, caused him to leave early and return home. That return led Louis to his career in the fire service, starting in 1994 with Summerville Fire Department. His goal was to work for the Charleston Fire Department, which he achieved on October 29, 1995, reporting to Engine 6 on Cannon Street under the tutelage of Captain Joe Ackerman.
Louis made Engineer on July 7, 1999, remaining in Engine 6. During this time, he started substitute teaching at Summerville High School, coaching Sertoma football and basketball. He eventually become an assistant coach for the Summerville JV and Varsity Football teams and also the Summerville Basketball team. Louis’s passion for helping and teaching kids drove him to be the lead volunteer for the Charleston Fire Department for Camp Can Do, a free camp for children with burn injuries.

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ENGINEER BRADFORD "BRAD" BAITY
by Battalion Chief Robert Baldwin

Brad was born on September 16‚ 1969 to James and Dorothy Baity. The youngest of three children‚ Brad had two older siblings, Jimmy and Sharon. Brad had two children, Mariah and Noah, with his wife Heather of almost 14 years. Brad served in the United States Marine Corp where he started his fire service career as a Crash Crew Rescue Aircraft Firefighter. He joined the James Island Fire Department in 1997 before joining the ranks of the Charleston Fire Department in 1998. He quickly made his way through the ranks and was promoted to Engineer serving at Fire Station 19. Brad also became an executive board member serving as treasurer for the Charleston Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 61. He was a dedicated son, husband, father, and friend. On Monday‚ June 18‚ 2007‚ this loving‚ soft spoken man would become part of a group that will forever be known as “The Charleston Nine”.

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ENGINEER MARK KELSEY
by Assistant Chief Joseph Roberts

Mark Kelsey was born in Washington, Indiana, a small farming community with a population of 13,000 residents. He was a gruff retired Navy veteran who told it like it was. Mark joined the Ashley River Fire Department when the Charleston Naval Base closed and joined the Charleston Fire Department in 1995. He rose to the rank of engineer with the CFD and worked part-time at Ashley River as a captain. Mark was known for his booming voice that was rumored to be the “hardest thing in the fire department”. A hefty coffee drinker, he’d come into the station, set his walkie-talkie into the charger and menacingly ask, “Who hasn’t made my pot of coffee?” The recipe was simple and direct, like Mark; one large scoop and no more.
Mark’s passion, besides the fire service, was his custom motorcycle. He rode the chopper rain or shine. Short, stocky and direct, he kept his blond hair cut short, didn’t like to dress up in a suit and tie for the station Christmas party, or be one given to fanfare. Mark refused an office at Ashley River, stating that offices, “closed him up”.

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ASSISTANT ENGINEER MICHAEL J. FRENCH
by Battalion Chief Brian Brown

Michael French, “Mikey” to his family, was born on February 14, 1980. If there was anything Michael was known for it was his passion for the fire service. From a very young age, he was drawn to firefighting, accompanying his father and uncle to the nearby station.
In 1994, at the young age of 14, he joined the Moncks Corner Volunteer Fire Department in Berkeley County as a volunteer. At the earliest opportunity possible, age 18, Michael began his career fire service journey when he was hired by the Old Fort Fire Department. He left Old Fort after a stint, moving on to Summerville Fire and Rescue, then St. Andrews Fire Department until he was hired by the Charleston Fire Department on January 30, 2006.
Michael, who now became known as “Frenchie” to his fire service brothers and sisters, was assigned to Station 16. Within less than a year, on December 20, 2006, Frenchie promoted to assistant engineer. He further fulfilled his desire to be a part of something greater by continuing to volunteer with the Pine Ridge Fire Department, attaining the rank of captain. Remembered as a “go-getter” when it came to furthering his firefighting knowledge, Frenchie also had a lighter side and was well-known as a prankster around the station.

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FIREFIGHTER JAMES EARL DRAYTON
by Battalion Chief Kenny Jenkins

James Earl Drayton joined the Charleston Fire Department on May 26, 1975. He spent much of his career downtown in Stations 6 and 15.
Earl lived in a house on the northwest corner of Morris Street and St. Philip Street. One night, Engine 6 was dispatched for a fire and Earl hurried everyone to the truck yelling, “Get this thing moving, that’s my house!” Earl transferred to Station 16 on January 26, 1997, and moved into an apartment off of Ashley River Road.
Earl kept a candy box at Station 16. Every day when all of the neighborhood kids got home from school, many would stop by the station to buy a piece of candy from Earl. I can remember Earl talking to each of those kids and making sure they were doing right in their life.
He was always good for an interesting conversation about the fire department and he certainly knew how to cook. I used to stop by Station 16 just to drop off a bag of shrimp or a few fish for Earl, back in the day when I had time to go catch them. He would throw them right into the pan or a pot of water.

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FIREFIGHTER MELVIN CHAMPAIGN
by Assistant Chief Joseph Roberts

Melvin was born on March 9, 1961, on James Island. He was the son of Mrs. Stella Champaign Ragin. Melvin had three children, Evieon, Isiah and Ruben. Melvin received his education at James Island schools and attended Alpha Omega Bible College. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1981, serving for eight years. Melvin was a member of the James Island United Congregational Church. His destiny was to become a minister. Melvin joined the Charleston Fire Department in 2005. Melvin was assigned to Engine Company 19 which was located at Station 16.
Melvin will always be remembered as a “philanthropist”. He was always willing to give his time to others. He served as a youth advocate leader, musician, choir director, assistant superintendent of the Sunday School, and Sunday School teacher. He was also a member of the Brotherhood, president of People Helping People Through Unity, instructor of Unity Tae Kwando School, president of Safe 4 Life, president of the Christian Brotherhood in Korea, and founder of the Restoration Boy’s Club.

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FIREFIGHTER BRANDON THOMPSON
by Captain David Griffin

Brandon was born on May 2, 1980, to Diane and Frank Thompson in Mobile, Alabama. He had two older brothers, Frank and Jeffrey, who both began to volunteer at the Pine Ridge Fire Department in Summerville, South Carolina. At the age of 14, Brandon began his firefighting career by joining his brothers at Pine Ridge to accompany them on drills and calls just to roll hose or help in any way possible. Over the years at Pine Ridge Fire Department Brandon developed into a great firefighter who could always be relied on.

During his tenure at Pine Ridge, where he held several positions including Station Captain and Assistant Chief, he was awarded numerous commendations for his exemplary service: Junior Firefighter of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Firefighter of the Year, and Officer of the Year. Brandon was always looking for new opportunities to train and educate himself. He was also involved in budgeting, grant writing, and researching new equipment. Brandon was passionate about attaining a grant for thermal imaging cameras to help provide firefighters better vision in smoke filled rooms.

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