Local firefighters mourn Charleston tragedy

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June 19, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---Nine firefighters were killed in a Charleston furniture store fire yesterday. It's the largest loss of life among firefighters in a single incident since 9-11.

Investigating the cause means sifting through rubble of the nearly 30,000 square foot roof that collapsed.

Brian Rutherford went to Summerville High School with one of the firefighters. Tonight he talked about the kind of man he was.

"He'd wash laundry for the basketball team or football team," Rutherford said. "If there were students who needed an extra push to get their grades going, he'd meet them in the classroom and sit with them."

Here at home, firefighters in Richmond and Columbia County paid homage to their lost brothers. News 12 was there as they observed the moment of silence at their firehouses.

As the clock struck 7pm, two Augusta-area fire departments joined hundreds of others across the country to remember the nine Charleston firefighters who lost their lives. Members from both departments recalled the devastation at hearing the news.

"Everybody's heart sank straight into their stomach," said Columbia County Fire Battalion Chief Danny Kuhlmann.

"To lose one firefighter is too many, but to lose nine...just can't fathom that," said Richmond County Fire Battalion Chief Ivan Bolgla.

"Something hard to wake up to first thing in the morning, knowing that you're going to work to do the exact same thing they lost their life doing," said Columbia County firefighter Preston Ashley.

"It hurts you in the heart and soul," said Richmond County firefighter David Parker. "It's bad to lose a brother fireman. Charleston is so close."

"We try to review what happened and get any kind of investigative report on it so we can review our policies and upgrade them if we need to," Chief Kuhlmann said.

"It's just hard to believe that nine died at one time," Richmond County's Lt. Jack Womack said. "I mean, it's terrible to lose anybody, but nine at one time is just hard to believe...hard to accept."

"It really hurts," said Parker. "It could have been Augusta...and you know we have buildings that size, and it could have been anywhere you know."

"Any time you hear of a firefighter death, it strikes home real hard," Chief Kuhlmann said.

"Something you live with when you do it, something you choose to do, for the right reasons," Columbia County's David Schulte said. "They gave their life for them."

"This is the type of job that you can't hesitate," Bolgla said. "You're trained to do the right thing, and when it's time to do the right thing, you go in and take care of business."

"We really do enjoy what we do, even in the bad times," Lt. Womack said. "We just have to try and get through it."

"These guys come to work every morning not knowing whether or not they're going to go home in the afternoon...so it's a tragedy," Chief Kuhlmann said.

Columbia and Richmond County firefighters are both planning go to Charleston for the memorial services when they are announced and say they will help the Charleston department in any way they can.

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