Two firefighters were killed and two hurt after a burning building on Independence Avenue collapsed on them Monday night, Kansas City fire officials said.
Firefighters were dispatched to a building in the 2600 block of Independence Avenue about 7:30 p.m. and found the structure heavily damaged by smoke and flames.
Fire crews evacuated people from the building, which included apartments. Before the collapse, firefighters on ladders rescued two people from the second story of the building.
While clearing an area with a partially collapsed roof, a further collapse of the structure injured four firefighters. Two of those firefighters died.
“This is the worst day,” said Kansas City Fire Chief Paul Berardi. “It’s difficult when you’re with somebody 24 hours a day and laughing and joking and then something like this happens.”
The fire crews moved back to what Berardi called a “defensive mode” after the firefighters were hurt. Hours later, flames continued to shoot out of the rubble and smoke smothered the neighborhood east of Prospect and Independence avenues.
The loss of the two firefighters appeared to be the worst episode in the department’s recent history. Fire officials could not remember such an incident since six firefighters died in an explosion at a construction site in 1988.
One resident who escaped the blaze was Lawrence Ray Lee. He said it was the second time the building had been damaged by fire in the year he lived there.
Lee stood outside the burning building with an oxygen tank he uses because of problems with his lungs. He was at home when the fire started.
“I was laying down and heard somebody yell, ‘Everybody get out,’ ” Lee said. “I opened my door and there was smoke really bad.”
A smoke alarm sounded. Choking on smoke, Lee left his apartment and saw flames. He ran outside to safety.
Lee’s daughter, Candy Best, said she was working when she heard about the fire. She rushed to the scene and searched for an hour and a half before she found her father safe.
A nearby resident, Chris Brown, heard the sirens and brought his 11-year old daughter and 8-year-old son to see the firefighters at work.
“It was so close to home and I heard a few firefighters got injured so I wanted to see what was going on,” Brown said.
“My prayers go out for them. I hate seeing anyone get injured doing their job.”
Fire officials said one of the injured firefighters would be released from the hospital Monday night. The other was expected to be released today.
Berardi said firefighters were at the hospital consoling the families of the firefighters who died.
“It’s going to be a difficult month,” Berardi said. “I know Kansas City, and I know Kansas Citians will be reaching out to the Fire Department to help. There will be a time for that.”