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On 30th anniversary of explosion that killed 6 firefighters, KCFD gathers at memorial

Predawn explosion 30 years ago claimed six lives, was felt across the city

A memorial service was held Nov. 29, 2018, 30 years to the day after a construction site explosion claimed the lives of firefighters James Kilventon Jr., Michael Olham, Robert McKarnin, Gerald Halloran, Luther Hurd and Thomas Fry.
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A memorial service was held Nov. 29, 2018, 30 years to the day after a construction site explosion claimed the lives of firefighters James Kilventon Jr., Michael Olham, Robert McKarnin, Gerald Halloran, Luther Hurd and Thomas Fry.

On Thursday, the 30th anniversary of an explosion that killed six Kansas City firefighters, members of the Kansas City Fire Department gathered at the site of a memorial built to remember the loss of life.

Thousands of Kansas Citians vividly remember that house-shaking, window-rattling moment. Jolted from their 4 a.m. sleep by a thunderous explosion that could be heard and felt dozens of miles away, the community soon learned about the calamity.

On Nov. 29, 1988, the Kansas City Fire Department crews of Pumper 30 and Pumper 41 were dispatched to put out a fire at a construction site near 87th Street and what is now Bruce R. Watkins Drive.

That’s when a burning trailer containing thousands of pounds of ammonium nitrate exploded. The firefighters died instantly.

The resulting criminal case continued to raise questions for years.

This is a file video from 2008 that gives an overview of the events that led to the deaths of six firefighters, and the convictions of five people in the case. The youngest defendant in the case, Bryan Sheppard, who was 17 at the time of the explo

The firefighters killed belonged to the crews of Pumper 30 and Pumper 41. They were, according to the Greater Kansas City Firefighters Facebook page:

Gerald C. Halloran, 57, married with three children and six grandchildren. Halloran had served more than 37 years and was considering retirement at the end of 1988.

Luther Eugene Hurd, 31, married with three children. Ordinarily he worked at Station 23 on the East Side but volunteered to fill in at Station 30 that night. He was a 10-year veteran of the department.

Thomas Fry, 41, had one child and had been a firefighter for more than 15 years.

From Pumper 41:

James H. Kilventon Jr., 54, married with two children. He had served more than 27 years with the department.

Michael R. Oldham, 32, married with two children, an 11-year veteran of the department. His father had been a firefighter.

Robert D. McKarnin, 42, who had spent almost 20 years with the fire department. Married with two children.

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Bryan Sheppard’s long wait for freedom ended late Monday afternoon in a deep embrace with the daughter who never gave up on him. Sheppard, the youngest of five people convicted in the 1988 arson fire that killed six Kansas City firefighters, walke

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