Emergency dispatch recordings tell of Kansas City blaze, collapse that killed two firefighters

Two Kansas City firefighters were killed Monday when a burning building at Independence and Prospect avenues collapsed.
Two Kansas City firefighters were killed Monday when a burning building at Independence and Prospect avenues collapsed. Special to The Star

Shortly before 7:30 Monday night, a Kansas City man called 911.

“We have a fire,” he said.

That call and others recorded by the Kansas City Fire Department dispatch tracked the course of the fire that would spread quickly and lead to a building collapse that killed two firefighters.

The recording, released Friday, details the efforts of firefighters rescuing two people from an apartment, searching for the source of the fire and trying to stop its spread. Also preserved is the response of firefighters when part of the building collapsed, and the efforts to rescue four injured men.

The 911 caller gave a good description of the building: 2608 Independence Ave., three floors, with businesses on the bottom and apartments above. He couldn’t locate the fire exactly, or say for sure whether everyone in the building had escaped yet. “We can’t tell, there’s so much smoke.”

In fact, at least two people remained trapped on the second floor of the building, awaiting rescue.

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Less than four minutes after that initial call, the first fire trucks arrived. Firefighters entered the building seeking the source of the fire while others used a ladder to rescue the apartment residents on the second floor.

“Truck 5, we’re going to be rescuing a person off the second floor, rear, when you get here,” a firefighter advised.

Soon the fire showed itself on the second floor.

“We’ve got heavy black smoke starting to come out of the second floor on the east side,” a firefighter warned.

The fire continued to grow. Fire department commanders sounded a second alarm to bring more crews about 7:45 p.m. The situation reached a tipping point when a firefighter saw flames eating up the ground floor of the building.

“The front lit up by the nail salon, looks like it’s going to light up all the way down,” the firefighter said. “Might want to think about pulling out.”

Someone in command agreed: “I need everybody out, everybody out.”

The radio operator sounded a series of loud tones to get the attention of everyone at the scene. It wasn’t long before the order went out for everyone to evacuate the building.

“The whole front’s going to light up in just a second,” someone said.

“The back just did about two, three minutes ago,” another voice answered.

A commander said he wanted to move everyone back, away from the building. The fire department had a procedure to create a “collapse zone” around structures that appeared ready to fall down.

A few minutes later, the east side of the building collapsed, trapping four firefighters under debris in an alley.

“Mayday,” a firefighter said. “We’re extricating people now.”

Another call: “Mayday, mayday, mayday.”

A fire official ordered three more ambulances to the scene. Rescue crews entered the alley to pull the firefighters from the rubble. The rescuers performed triage on the injured firefighters, sending the first critically injured man away in an ambulance at 8:13 p.m.

Minutes later, another section of the building fell in on itself. “Major collapse, major collapse on the west side,” someone called.

Emergency crews performed CPR on another critically injured firefighter before an ambulance took him to a hospital.

Later it would be clear that two of the firefighters — Larry J. Leggio, a 17-year veteran assigned to Truck 2, and John V. Mesh, on the job for 13 years and working on Pumper 10 — had died. Two others were injured and later released from the hospital.

While the fire burned, more ambulances stood ready nearby as firefighters continued to surround the blaze to stop it from spreading.

At the end of the recording, a firefighter still working at the scene called out: “Give me water, now.”

Family fund

A fund to support the families of fallen firefighters is available through IAFF Local 42. Tax-deductible donations will be given to the families of Larry Leggio and John Mesh. Donations can be made by check, payable to IAFF Local 42 and sent to 6320 Manchester Ave., Suite 42A; Kansas City, MO 64133. Sympathy cards may be mailed to the same address.

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