CHARLESTON. S.C. (AP) - The fire chief in Charleston, South Carolina, is urging his firefighters to "never forget these nine great heroes."
He spoke Friday at a memorial service for the nine firefighters who died earlier this week when fire swept through a furniture store.
Rusty Thomas told personal stories about each of the men. And he said they had "served this community like no one else has ever served."
Thousands of firefighters from across the nation, with their hats in their hands, gathered to mourn their nine fallen colleagues.
An orchestra played as uniformed escorts walked the men's families to their seats. Large photos of the firefighters stood beside each of the caskets.
Bagpipers played taps, and a firehouse bell was struck 15 times.
Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley told the crowd that the firefighters were "public servants of the highest order," who did their job "without hesitation" and "with extreme courage."
The first of the nine funerals is taking place later today.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)