COLUMBIA, S.C. — It's been three months since Irmo Firefighter James Muller died while fighting a fire in Columbia. On Friday, community members remembered his sacrifice at the annual Tunnel to Towers 5K event.
It was a race of remembrance through Columbia Friday with one focus - supporting America's first responders and military heroes. The annual Tunnel to Towers 5K brought thousands of runners and spectators to Columbia's Vista area. The event was started to remember the lives lost during the attacks on 9/11.
On Friday, the crowd included firefighters, police, and veterans, including Lashanda Howard. Howard remembers those lost on 9/11. "They're in our prayers and their loved ones they left behind. They're still in our hearts, and we run for them on this day."
Thousands of others joined Howard, some dressed in full firefighter gear, others with military uniforms on, remembering brothers and sisters who they'd lost.
One of the focal parts of the night was memorializing Irmo firefighter James Muller, who died while saving lives during a house fire in May. Irmo Fire District chief Mike Sonefeld says the company is continuing to heal, using events like the 5K to come together and support each other.
"Especially on a date like today. The guy was just a fitness nut, absolutely. Sun up to sun down, 90 degrees, 10 degrees, it didn't matter," Sonefeld said. "It was one of his favorite things to do. He really dove in. He got a lot of us thinking maybe we ought to be doing more of the same. We miss him every day, stuff like this when we're all together."
Members of the Irmo Fire family donned 'It's Muller time' t-shirts, and some carried photos, just a few ways Sonefeld said they would carry Muller's legacy and love for firefighting.
"When you're a firefighter, you have an image to uphold. He was the epitome of that," Sonefeld said. "We didn't put that in him, his family [did]. When he got to use at age 18, he already had that in him. It was just a matter of this was the vehicle he was going to do greatness, and he did. He touched hundreds, if not thousands of people, just by being the one thing he absolutely loved."
Muller's wife and the fire district were presented with a memorial plaque before the race, and a plate with his name and face sat at the 'Wall of Rememberence.'
Sonefeld said his team is committed to remembering Muller in everything they do and continues to share his story.
"I think his legacy moving forward for us is he was the model. He was the one in a million," Sonefeld said. "If everybody captured a little bit of what he did, just a little bit, I think that's enough to make us a better department to more people that we're out touching, interfacing with."