Uncle to fallen firefighter: 'Melvin, you fought a good fight'

By Valencia

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- The ceremony to honor the nine men who gave their lives fighting the Sofa Super Store fire in 2007 will capture the eyes of the Lowcountry, but it will be felt in the hearts of the families who lost their loved ones.

For many, the feeling is still raw.

Outside Charleston Fire Department Station 16, the last place from which Melvin Champaign was dispatched, was where his final call of heroic service began.

With every step, it's a walk Hercules Champaign, Melvin's uncle, it's a walk he never imagined.

"it's unbelievable. It's not real for me," he said.

The journey toward the steel marker the serves as a memorial for Melvin Champaign and eight other men carries the weight of six years heavy with grief.

"This guy was not just a nephew. He was like a son," said Hercules Champaign.

The call to evacuate and seek safety came from 46-year-old Melvin Champaign.

"That had been him; he always put people first," Hercules Champaign said.

The flames grew and the roof collapsed, and then from the engulfed rubble of the store came Melvin Champaign's final plea: "In Jesus' name, Amen."

"I don't think it was eight days apart. he said, 'If the Lord come and get me now, I'm ready,'" Hercules Champaign recalled his nephew saying.

Then the new of tragedy came. Nine men -- husbands, fathers, brothers and sons -- died. It was news Hercules Champaign could not bear to hear. Melvin Champaign was among the dead.

"I said, 'No. Please don't tell me that,'" he said.

Melvin Champaign left behind three children and a story of change.

"he went away from home and I hadn't seen him in 18 years and he came back home," said Hercules Champaign. "he started being Melvin again."

With a new take on life, Melvin Champaign had found his calling as a firefighter.

"He didn't want to do nothing else," said Hercules Champaign. "He fought for it. I mean, he was smiling from ear to ear."

The work claimed his heart, setting him on a course public servant and now remembers him as a hero, but Hercules Champaign said his nephew would reject the hero label.

"He wouldn't want no one to call him that. He wouldn't want nobody to call him that, but all nine of these guys were heroes," he said.

The trip may not be easy to the memorial, but it's one Hercules Champaign takes in pride.

"Melvin, you fought a good fight," he said.

Melvin Champaign's family says his picture hangs in his family church as a sign of his service and sacrifice.

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