The Kansas City Fire Department will begin its investigation into the Oct. 12 wall collapse that killed two firefighters after the first of the year, Chief Paul Berardi says.
Berardi’s announcement came after The Star reported over the weekend that the department had not begun its investigation into the deaths of Larry Leggio and John Mesh, although a federal probe began two months ago. The men died when a wall collapsed on them during an arson fire in the 2600 block of Independence Boulevard.
The collapse occurred 15 minutes after the building had been evacuated and an undetermined number of minutes after the commander on the scene had established a “collapse zone” because of indications that the building could fall down.
Leggio and Mesh were positioned within the collapse zone at least 2 1/2 minutes after the order had gone out, and perhaps as long as 11 minutes, Berardi told the newspaper last week. The firefighters were working in an alley to stop the fire from spreading to a nearby grocery store.
Berardi last week promised then to provide the paper with an unedited audio recording of radio traffic that might help establish how much time elapsed, but as of Wednesday evening he had not done so.
A federal agency, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, began its investigation the week of the fire.
In a previous investigation of a fire elsewhere, the agency concluded it was “unacceptable” to leave firefighters near the walls of a burning building that is in danger of collapsing just to protect an adjacent structure.
Berardi said he chose to delay his department’s investigation because emotions among department personnel were still too “raw” and he wanted to give firefighters and commanders time before conducting formal interviews.
Berardi told The Star’s Steve Kraske on his radio program this week that the investigation will get under way in early 2016, as will a review of other safety issues.
“We’re going to look at all of our policies,” Berardi said, “from wearing seat belts to the collapse zone, which is (at the) forefront of our mind now.”