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KC’s fallen firefighters: More than 100 have died in line of duty

On Aug. 18, 1959, a gasoline tank exploded on Southwest Boulevard, killing six men, including five firefighters. Flames from the explosion soared 1,600 feet in the air.
On Aug. 18, 1959, a gasoline tank exploded on Southwest Boulevard, killing six men, including five firefighters. Flames from the explosion soared 1,600 feet in the air.

Since the Kansas City Fire Department was founded in 1867, more than 100 Kansas City firefighters have died in the line of duty, according to the department’s unofficial historian.

The first was William Craig, who fell down an elevator shaft in 1887.

The second was William McArdle, who had followed his father into the department’s ranks. McArdle, 32, was kicked in the chest by a horse in 1888. His father, Joseph McArdle, 56, died less than five years later of pneumonia he contracted while fighting a fire.

Their names are included on a list compiled by Ray Elder, a retired Kansas City fire captain.

Bill Galvin, president of the firefighters union, local 42, reflects on the death of Larry J. Leggio and John V. Mesh. The firefighters died battling a structure fire at Independence and Prospect avenues on Monday evening.

Among the department’s worst days:

▪ Nov. 29, 1988: Six Kansas City firefighters died at the U.S. 71 highway construction site at 87th Street, where two burning trailers loaded with 25,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil exploded before dawn. Killed were Capt. Gerald Halloran, Capt. James Kilventon Jr. and firefighters Thomas Fry, Luther Hurd, Robert McKarnin and Michael Oldham.

▪ Aug. 18, 1959: A huge fireball engulfed six men, including five Kansas City firefighters, at the former Continental Oil Co. operation at 31st Street and Southwest Boulevard. As firefighters from both sides of the state line trained 12 streams of water on the fire, a 20,000-gallon fuel tank exploded. Killed were Capt. George Bartels, Capt. Peter Sirna and firefighters Neal Owen, Virgil Sams and Delbert Stone.

▪ April 1, 1950: Three firefighters died, along with a mother and child, in an apartment fire at West 18th and Washington streets. Don A. Nastasio Sr., Melvin Kurtz and Joseph P. Cooney were crushed when two porches, a porch roof and part of a wall collapsed.

The Star

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