SC firefighter who died in the line of duty is laid to rest

The Irmo firefighter killed while battling an apartment fire in Columbia last week was celebrated as a hero Wednesday.
Published: May. 31, 2023 at 2:15 PM EDT|Updated: May. 31, 2023 at 5:42 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS/AP) - An Irmo firefighter who died last week while battling an apartment fire was celebrated as a hero who sacrificed all in a life of serving others.

Firefighter James Michael Muller died while battling an apartment fire that injured six other firefighters, WIS-TV reported.

Authorities said Muller died after he became trapped inside the apartment which collapsed during the fire. He was one of seven firefighters were taken to the hospital after the collapse.

The funeral service took place at Riverland Hills Baptist Church in Columbia. One of the church’s pastors, Dr. Doc Hanberry, spoke of the sacrifice of first responders and the love represented by one willing to sacrifice his own life for others. He encouraged everyone at the church to stand and applaud Muller’s life.

“And while it might seem a little odd to, consider for a second the things that we celebrate in our culture. We celebrate a man hitting a baseball over a fence. We celebrate a man shooting a basketball through a hoop. We celebrate a man carrying a football across a goal line and even in some cases we refer to those men as heroes,” he said. “What about a man who dedicated his life to service? What about a man who paid the ultimate price while doing the very thing he swore to do? What about that kind of a hero if you asked me, I think that’s worthy of celebration.”

Irmo Fire Chief Mike Sonefeld told the audience he was standing before them in “the weakest moment” of his entire life. He spoke of Muller’s dedication.

“I always hated the words ‘giving 110%.’ I just barely got out of algebra but it doesn’t add up. It’s 100%. That’s just what it is,” he said. “But the more I thought about it this week, Jay had the 100%. He brought 110, so he could give the rest to us when he came to work. If I came in at 90, I left at 100. You can guarantee it. And that was kind of his magic potion.”

It is the first time the Irmo Fire Department has had to deal with the loss of one of its firefighters in the line of duty, a loss Sonefeld called devastating.

Gov. Henry McMaster also ordered all flags on state buildings be lowered to half-staff from sunrise until sunset on Wednesday in honor of Muller.

Two residents were also taken to the hospital, Jenkins said. In total, about 19 people were displaced from the damaged apartments. The American Red Cross is working with residents on lodging and other immediate needs.

The fire is being investigated by the Columbia Police Department, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the Richland County Fire Marshal’s Office and other agencies.