Local

At Kauffman Stadium, roars and respect for fallen firefighters

and Tod Palmer

tpalmer@kcstar.com

Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas hugged members of firefighters’ families during Wednesday’s game at Kauffman Stadium.
Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas hugged members of firefighters’ families during Wednesday’s game at Kauffman Stadium. jledford@kcstar.com

Thirty-eight members of the Kansas City Fire Department walked onto the Kauffman Stadium field on Wednesday night, 10 minutes before the Royals and Astros played Game 5 of their American League Division Series.

Halfway through the procession, which lined up from home plate past the first-base bag, an unprompted cheer started and steadily grew among the sellout crowd, which had settled into its seats well before the opening pitch.

That cheer only grew louder when the families of firefighters Larry J. Leggio and John V. Mesh entered the field and huddled around the 2015 ALDS logo painted in the grass.

Leggio and Mesh were killed Monday night in the line of duty when a wall collapsed as they battled a three-story blaze in the 2600 block of Independence Avenue.

There was a respectful and somber quality to the applause inside Kauffman. After a 20-second moment of silence, many of the firefighters saluted during the national anthem, with some staring out at the color guard behind the mound and others looking toward the U.S. flag in right field that flew at half-staff for the second straight day.

This was the city’s salute to the ultimate sacrifice made by Leggio and Mesh. A memorial service also has been scheduled for Saturday at the Sprint Center. Two other Kansas City firefighters also were injured battling the fire.

“Kansas City, it’s a big city, but it’s a small town,” said Mike Sweeney, Royals Hall of Famer and special assistant to baseball operations. “As a player, I always felt connected with the city. Times like this is evidence of that. This city is one big family.

“All cities try to come together in times of crisis. We’ve seen it all over the country, but Kansas City — there’s nothing like Kansas City. That’s what makes Kansas City so special.”

At the fire scene Wednesday, investigators continued what is expected to be a slow, methodical process to determine what sparked the blaze.

A large crane lifted two fire investigators over the Independence Avenue debris field. They were part of a team of 45 sifting through debris and interviewing witnesses. More than half of the investigators are members of a federal team that specializes in examining fire scenes.

The team also includes at least one dog trained in sniffing out accelerants, but the dog’s presence did not mean that investigators believe the fire had suspicious origins.

“Right now, everything is on the table,” said John Ham, local public information officer for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Leggio and Mesh were fatally injured when the building’s eastern wall collapsed outward, covering them with debris as they helped four other firefighters pour water from a hose into the building’s windows.

Early Wednesday afternoon, two ATF investigators climbed into a small cage and were lifted above the debris field by a crane. Those investigators, along with structural engineers and fire safety officers, assessed the stability of the debris field and looked for possible access points.

“The building is a complete collapse,” Ham said of the three-story structure.

“All of these scenes are inherently dangerous. We just don’t want to do anything to increase that danger level.”

ATF agents along with Kansas City firefighters and Kansas City police begin digging through the fire scene at Independence and Prospect avenues where two firefighters lost their lives on Monday evening. ATF spokesman John E. Ham updates the invest

Investigators occupying tables and tents just south of Independence Avenue on Wednesday included members of the Kansas City Fire Department, the Kansas City police bomb and arson squad, and the Missouri fire marshal’s office.

“The more eyes we have looking at this, the better off we are,” Ham said.

A separate team of investigators is trying to determine where and how the fire started and how it spread.

Other investigators spanned out to conduct interviews with residents of the building’s apartments and operators of its businesses, as well as the firefighters who battled the flames.

“The interviews are critical to us, particularly in this circumstance, where the building that burned was partially residential,” Ham said. “There were people inside of that building when the fire started, we know that.”

Those investigators will be looking to retrieve any surveillance video that may have recorded the fire. Residents who live near the scene have been offering cellphone videos of the blaze, and those will be evaluated as well, Ham said.

Still other investigators were to comb through records, reviewing the building’s construction and code compliance history.

Four businesses operated on the first floor. A fifth retail space had been vacant, Ham said. Although a restaurant had been considered for the empty space, it was unclear whether construction had begun, Ham said.

Officials believe everyone got out safely before the collapse.

Because transients or homeless people occasionally have been noted around the building, investigators brought four cadaver dogs into the debris field Wednesday, Ham said.

Several members of the New York City Fire Department trained in post-traumatic stress disorder will work with any firefighters who need assistance, said James Garrett, Kansas City Fire Department spokesman.

They are scheduled to be joined Thursday by three ATF peer support employees, Ham said.

Investigators will shut down at 5 p.m. each day to ward off fatigue-related injury, Ham said. The investigation will be methodical, he said, adding that it could take several more days.

“We start with every possible cause on the table and then we start ruling things out,” Ham said. “Fire investigation is a process of elimination, so, as we go through that, we will start to be able to put some pieces of the puzzle together.”

Brian Burnes: 816-234-4120, @BPBthree

Memorial service

The memorial service for two Kansas City firefighters killed in a building collapse earlier this week will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Sprint Center, city officials said.

The public memorial service will honor firefighters Larry J. Leggio and John V. Mesh. The two firefighters were fatally injured while battling a blaze in the northeast area Monday night.

Traffic will be closed around the Sprint Center along Grand Boulevard and Truman Road.

Donations to the families of Leggio and Mesh can be made through IAFF Local 42, which is hosting the memorial service. Checks payable to IAFF Local 42 should be sent to 6320 Manchester Ave., Suite 42A, Kansas City, MO 64133. Sympathy cards may also be mailed to the same address.

Leggio, 43, leaves a wife and mother. Mesh, 39, leaves a wife and four daughters.

Leggio had served 17 years and Mesh 13 years with the Fire Department.

Ian Cummings, icummings@kcstar.com

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