A roof collapsed on three Kansas City firefighters in the Northeast area early Friday, sending two firefighters to the hospital with minor injuries.
The firefighters were in the front of the one-story house in the 700 block of North Agnes Avenue, Kansas City Fire Department spokesperson Deputy Chief James Garrett said, in the final stages of putting out the fire.
“As we were going through the process of putting out the fire, we had a roof failure, a roof collapse,” he said. “The ceiling came down on three firefighters.”
Debris covered the firefighters, and a rapid deployment team rushed into the structure. The team retrieved the firefighters within three minutes, Garrett said. Two went to the hospital, and the third was treated at the scene.
No one was in the home at the time of the fire, which started about 7 a.m., but it appeared that the house, in an industrial area, was occupied, Garrett said. Furniture and other personal items were inside.
The fire took crews about 40 minutes to extinguish. Fire incident commanders assessed the risk to fire crews every few minutes, Garrett said.
“If there is an offensive attack (inside a structure), they will look and see how that is coming along,” he said. “If there’s anything about the scene, about the fire, whatever, that would lead them to believe that the ceiling or main supports are sagging ... they are trained to look and assess that.”
Fire officials will conduct an after-action review or evaluation of the incident to assess how firefighters performed and what lessons can be learned. That session involves all fire companies that worked the incident and re-creates what happened, Garrett said.
Not all departments take those steps. But such followup investigations can help prevent future injuries and fatalities, if departments incorporate those lessons into their operating procedures, safety experts told the The Star during the course of its reporting for a series of stories on firefighter safety published last week.
The Star’s investigation found that hundreds of firefighters were killed and tens of thousands injured over the past two decades when fire departments failed to learn from others’ mistakes by following recommendations of a federal safety agency that investigates firefighter fatalities.
Experts say, and The Star’s analysis of 201 fatalities at structural fires confirmed, that firefighters are far more likely to die in an empty building than in one that is occupied.
Friday’s fire was challenging because of the weather, Garrett said. “It is tough fighting fires in extreme weather, when you are trying to put water on the fire and the water is freezing,” he said.
The debris that fell on the firefighters was still burning, he said. “It was a very tense situation.”
Katy Bergen and Mike Hendricks contributed to this report.