Charleston Mourns Its Fallen Firefighters

This combination of photos provided Tuesday, June 19, 2007 by the City of Charleston, S.C. shows the nine firefighters killed in a fire Monday night in Charleston.
AP Photo/City of Charleston
One coached football when he wasn't fighting fires. Another cut hair at a barbershop. Yet another was known for quoting the Bible. They called each other nicknames like "Squirrel" and "Lightning."

On Tuesday, this city on the South Carolina coast mourned them all: nine firefighters killed inside a burning furniture store in the nation's worst loss of firefighters since the 2001 World Trade Center attack.

"They did exactly what they were trained to do," fire Chief Rusty Thomas said.

"We've lost nine of our best friends. We've lost nine of our best firefighters," Thomas told CBS' The Early Show Wednesday, adding that he was privileged to have such a "personal bond" with his staff.

They went into the burning building on Monday in search of two employees who had been reported to be trapped inside.

One employee made it out. The other, Jonathan Tyrell, said he banged with a hammer, hoping someone would find him, and a firefighter was eventually able to pull him out.

"I hugged him and told him 'thank you' over and over," Tyrell told The Early Show.

The cause of the fire at the Sofa Super Store was under investigation, though arson was not suspected.

The blaze apparently started in an outdoor trash bin, then quickly engulfed the store and its adjacent warehouse as firefighters tried to put down the flames, The Post and Courier of Charleston reported Wednesday. As it spread to the building, a door blew open and the flames swept in.

"We tried to close the door, but we couldn't," Charleston Assistant Fire Chief Larry Garvin told the newspaper.

He said firefighters started bringing in hoses, but they didn't stand a chance as the sofa and chair material ignited. The men were spread out in teams when the roof collapsed, Charleston Fire Capt. Jake Jenkins told the newspaper.

The rows of sofas and mattresses were stacked five and six high on racks in the cavernous warehouse, a corrugated-metal structure next to a gas station.