Special ceremony honors the Charleston 9

By Nikki

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) The Lowcountry on Tuesday paused to remember the Charleston 9. Six years ago, nine firefighters lost their lives battling a massive fire at the Sofa Super Store in West Ashley.

For the family and friends of those fallen firefighters the tragedy of June 18, 2007 is just as fresh today as it was six years ago.

"Seems like the world has continued moving, and I'm still on June 18, 2007," said Diane French who lost her only son, Michael, to the fire.

During the ceremony, Chief Karen Brack read the names aloud of the fallen firefighters followed by a ringing of the bell.

"It really touches my heart to know that people still remember them and appreciate the sacrifice that they made that night," described French.

For French, she never stops thinking of her son.

"He was the fourth one found and the sixth one brought out," said French.

Even six years after the tragedy, the loss of Michael French to the Sofa Super Store fire is still hard to cope with. Her son was only 27 years old when he lost his life.

"I go to the cemetery if not every day at least every other day, sometimes three or four times day," said French. "He lived and breathed the fire department."

One by one, family and friends paid their respects to the monuments that bears each of the firefighters' names at the site where the Sofa Super Store once stood.

"The 18th of June is a day that I wish I could take off the calendar," said Captain Art Wittner with the Charleston Fire Department.

Wittner was of one of six firefighters from Station 16 to respond to the fire. He returned as the only survivor.

"To actually go back to the station, there was nobody left there. Dinner plates were still on the table, personal belongings still out from my guys," said Wittner.

From that tragedy came many lessons learned, according to fire chief Karen Brack.

"I think that you would be hard pressed to find any fire department in the American fire service that has made as many significant changes as the City of Charleston has," said Brack. "The tools, the equipment, the apparatus, the safety gear has just been phenomenal."

While the lives of the Charleston 9 were cut short, their lasting impact will never be forgotten.

"These were and always will be great guys and there's nobody that could ever fill their shoes," said Wittner.

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