City officials share department improvements 10 years after Sofa Super Store fire

City officials share department improvements 10 years after Sofa Super Store fire

CHARLESTON (WCIV) -- In just under three weeks, the city of Charleston will reflect, honor, and pay tribute to nine heroes.

June 18 marks the 10th anniversary of the deadly Sofa Super Store fire. Tuesday, fire officials discussed the significant changes made to the department since 2007.

Every day, Captain Ryan Delk proudly wears a “Charleston 9” memorial pin.

“It means a lot to me to be able to wear it knowing that I knew those guys and worked with those guys,” Delk says.

It was 2007 and Delk was just one year on the job with the Charleston Fire Department when tragedy changed everything. Nine firefighters died in the blaze. Delk knew some of them. Still, he calls them all his brothers.

"I think it is really important in the fire service that we never do forget,” explained Delk.

Remembering their lives is the department's goal too. That's why they held a media briefing Tuesday highlighting improvements made to the department over the last decade.

Battalion chief Larry Hood says, “I think we knew to honor these guys, changes were coming and the way to honor them was to stay with the changes, work with the changes. I think we are 10 years ahead of where we actually should have been right now."

Some of the changes include increasing staff by nearly 100 people and adding a multi-year training plan.

However, one of the biggest is an automatic aid agreement between North Charleston, St. Johns, James island, and St. Andrews. Whoever is closest to the fire now responds.

Captain Karl Morris added, “Who we send those are the kinds of things that have changed. I think it will be an ongoing change process with that but we are always going to be there for the community, to serve the community."

While they all agree, the department's been under the microscope for 10 years. Interim Chief John Tippet says the changes have saved lives.

"I think the overarching message was we have to do everything we can to not let it happen again.”

In 2007, the Charleston fire department's operating budget was almost $15 million. Now it’s nearly $32 million.

Plans are being made for a special ceremony to honor the Charleston nine. It will be June 18 at 7 p.m. at the Charleston 9 memorial park on Savannah Highway. The public is invited.

The firefighters who died are listed below.

Captain Louis Mulkey

Captain Mike Benke

Firefighter Melven Champaign

Captain William "Billy" Hutchinson

Engineer Bradford "Brad" Baity

Firefighter James "Earl" Drayton

Engineer Mark Kelsey

Engineer Michael French

Firefighter Brandon Thompson

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