Lakewood, Wash. – On Thursday, June 18, 2009, the Lakewood Fire Department threw a birthday party for 5-year-old Reuben Charity. The department first learned about Rueben when they received a phone call from Reuben’s mother, Jeannetta Charity, earlier this year. She was asking for public education materials, such as coloring books, stickers and a plastic fire hat to use in a project she was working on at Tacoma Community College. She said she’d like this project to double as an educational tool to teach Reuben about what his father, Melvin Champaign, did as a firefighter. On June 18, 2007, while fighting a fire in a furniture warehouse in Charleston, South Carolina, the roof collapsed and Melvin Champaign was killed, along with eight other firefighters, leaving the fire department and the community devastated.
After receiving her request, the Lakewood Fire Department gave Jeannetta the materials and asked if Reuben could visit the fire station for his birthday. Almost 30 family members came to celebrate with Reuben and enjoyed touring the station, getting a ride in the fire engine and of course, cake.
“The fire service is a family, no matter what coast you live on and Melvin Champaign gave the ultimate sacrifice. We have an opportunity to celebrate with Reuben and his family and are honored to be a part of this,” Fire Chief Ken Sharp said.
Reuben was given a birthday present from Lakewood Fire as well. He received a miniature uniform shirt with a Firefighter’s badge on the front. He was all smiles as he went and changed his clothes as soon as he opened it. His mother was given a Lakewood Fire challenge coin, which is a tradition within the fire service, and is rarely given to civilians. It is a small token to show the unity of the fire service.
After Reuben opened his present, tones came over the station’s loudspeakers in memory of the Charleston 9. A Fire Comm dispatcher’s voice came over the air and said, “This is a tribute to the Charleston 9, June 18, 2007, who dedicated their lives and gave the ultimate sacrifice. You will never be forgotten.”
Melvin Champaign gave the ultimate sacrifice and the Lakewood Fire is honored to have had the opportunity to celebrate with his youngest son.