The death of a first responder in the line of duty is every community’s fear. Tragically, it became a fresh reality for Kansas City on Monday night when two firefighters perished after a wall of a three-story building in the city’s Northeast collapsed outward.
Larry J. Leggio, a 17-year department veteran, and John V. Mesh, a 13-year firefighter, were pronounced dead at a hospital. Both were married and Mesh had four daughters.
Two other firefighters were injured in the wall collapse. Before the wall fell, shortly after 8 p.m. Monday, firefighters had rescued at least three persons from the combination apartment and commercial building at Independence and Prospect avenues. Two of those persons were helped out of the building on ladders.
The families of Leggio and Mesh — and all of Kansas City’s firefighting family — are owed the community’s greatest respect and sympathy.
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With fires and firefighter deaths decreasing in Kansas City and nationwide in recent years, it becomes easier to overlook the dangers that come with the job day in and day out.
The Kansas City Fire Department uses state-of-the-art safety training and equipment. But fire and structurally unsound buildings pose risks that can’t always be anticipated. Crews had already evacuated the building Monday night and were fighting the blaze from the exterior.
“It didn’t fall like a normal collapse,” Fire Chief Paul Berardi told reporters. “It was actually pushed out at least 30 feet.” The fallen wall trapped the four firefighters underneath debris.
A shaken Berardi took time to thank those in the community and beyond for their sympathy and support. Generously, he said there would be time and ways for Kansas City to reach out to the bereaved department and families.
The city set up a fund to benefit surviving family members on Tuesday. Donations can be made by check, payable to IAFF Local 42, and sent to 6320 Manchester Ave., Suite 42A, Kansas City, Mo. 64133.
“This is the worst day,” Berardi said Monday night, but added that families of the two firefighters will know that civilian lives were saved through the efforts of crews on the scene.
That is what firefighters sign up for — to place their own lives at risk in order to save others. We hope it never comes to that point but the possibility always exists. Today, we offer Kansas City’s firefighters our gratitude and condolences.