Bells Toll for Charleston's Fallen Firefighters Thousands of people gathered at a coliseum in Charleston, S.C., Friday morning to honor nine firefighters who died when the roof of a burning furniture store collapsed on them Monday. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley honored their commitment to public service, and Fire Chief Rusty Thomas remembered each man, six of whom he had hired.
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Bells Toll for Charleston's Fallen Firefighters

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Bells Toll for Charleston's Fallen Firefighters

Bells Toll for Charleston's Fallen Firefighters

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

They were coaches and veterans. One was a barber, another a biker, most were fathers. One was engaged to be married in a few months. All were firefighters. This morning in Charleston, South Carolina, they were remembered as heroes.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: As the music of Bach echoed through the North Charleston Coliseum, weeping family members filed past nine caskets draped with American flags. The men died in a fire on Monday when a roof collapsed at a furniture store.

Today, Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley expressed his deepest sympathy to their loved ones and he talked about the firefighter's commitment to their work.

Mayor JOSEPH RILEY (Charleston, South Carolina): Lives have to be saved, fire to be extinguished before it enflames the next - the building next door or a whole neighborhood. And that was in the minds, Monday night, of every firefighter at that scene, and in the hearts and minds of these nine fallen heroes.

Ms. RUSTY THOMAS (Fire Chief, Charleston City Fire Department): All week long, people had been asking me, how are you doing? How are you holding up?

BLOCK: That's Charleston Fire Chief Rusty Thomas who hired six of the nine firefighters and knew them all personally. He remembered Mike Benke as a go-getter. Billy Hutchinson retired from the fire department then went back to the job. So did James Earl Drayton.

Chief Thomas said that Louis Mulkey liked to tease. Brad Baity was a man of few words. Mark Kelsey, he said, was like the pink energizer bunny. Michael French was persistent. Melvin Champagne, a snappy dresser. And Brandon Thompson wanted to work despite a broken leg. As he finished talking, Chief Thomas issued a challenge to all of the city's fire stations.

Mr. THOMAS: That we will never forget these nine great heroes that worked for the city of Charleston Fire Department and served this community like no one else has ever served. Thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

BLOCK: Earlier, before the service, the procession of about 100 firetrucks passed the burned furniture store in Charleston. An investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing.

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