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‘Oh my God, it’s terrible’: Frantic 911 calls tell of devastating Overland Park fire

Listen to 911 calls from the Overland Park apartment fire

A massive eight-alarm fire consumed an apartment building under construction at a multimillion-dollar development in Overland Park on March 20. Here are some excerpts from the 911 calls.
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A massive eight-alarm fire consumed an apartment building under construction at a multimillion-dollar development in Overland Park on March 20. Here are some excerpts from the 911 calls.

A construction worker called 911 as he frantically honked his horn to warn other workers away from a fire at an unfinished apartment building in Overland Park — one of 69 calls reporting a massive blaze and flaming embers raining down on nearby homes.

The 911 dispatch recordings, released to The Kansas City Star on Thursday, reveal workers’ and residents’ frantic pleas for firefighters.

The fire started in an apartment building under construction at the CityPlace development at Nieman Road and College Boulevard.

In one of the first emergency calls from the construction site, a dispatcher said, “Tell me exactly what happened.”

A man responded, “We were welding on a building, and it caught on fire.”

Another man who called from the site soon after the fire started could be heard honking his truck’s horn and yelling to other workers to get out.

He reported that the “whole entire apartment building” was on fire.

“It is going up as we speak, ma’am,” he told a dispatcher.

He told the dispatcher he thought everyone was out, and he didn’t know if anyone was injured.

The fire quickly spread to other nearby buildings and homes, prompting an eight-alarm response from fire departments across the metro area.

Most of the recordings obtained by The Star were were handled quickly by 911 call takers after firefighters were already dispatched.

“All of the emergency offices are overwhelmed with many phone calls,” a call taker told one person.

But some of the calls captured the frightening moments as houses caught fire.

In one call from the nearby neighborhood, a man can be heard yelling, “We’ve gotta get them out of the houses.”

The sound of knocking on doors can be heard in the background.

He said they were going door to door to warn residents.

That caller reported flaming embers raining down around a stretch of four houses later.

A dispatcher asked if the houses were on fire.

“Not just yet,” he said. “I’d give it 10 minutes, and it will be up in flames,” he said.

A woman called to report that her house’s roof was on fire.

“Oh my God,” she said. “Our house is on fire. Embers are everywhere on the deck.”

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Another woman called from the area of 128th Street and Quivira Road to report an ember “the size of a basketball” had just landed in her tree.

“Oh my God, it’s terrible,” another caller said.

In Overland Park, initial calls to 911 are taken by police call takers. If the call is for fire or ambulance help, it is transferred to countywide fire and medical dispatchers.

In the calls obtained by The Star, one woman being transferred from the 911 call taker to fire department dispatchers could be heard saying, “Come on. Come on. Pick up the phone.”

“We have a blazing fire,” she said when connected with the dispatcher. “It’s bad. It’s gonna spread to the other houses.”

The woman waited five to six seconds before she was connected to a dispatcher.

That is a typical wait time even when dispatchers are not handling a large volume of calls like they did Monday, according to Ellen Wernicke, director of Johnson County Emergency Management and Communications.

“We were hit pretty hard by this particular incident,” Wernicke said.

Even so, Wernicke said there had been no reports of anyone not being able to get through during Monday’s incident.

Another woman frantically asked for firefighters to check on her home. She said she had a pet in her home and couldn’t get to it.

In all, 25 homes were damaged, including about eight that have been deemed uninhabitable, officials said.

City officials on Thursday released a map of the affected homes and used color-coding to show the extent of damage to each structure.

Investigators later confirmed what the caller from the site said — that the fire started accidentally as a result of welding work.

Despite the intensity and widespread nature of the fires, there were no serious injuries. Three firefighters were treated for minor injuries.

  

Tony Rizzo: 816-234-4435, @trizzkc

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