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KC Fire Department makes 14 safety recommendations from deaths of two firefighters

Seven months after two firefighters died fighting a fire on Independence Boulevard, the Kansas City Fire Department produced a report on the deaths and a set of recommendations to improve firefighter safety.

Kansas City firefighters John Mesh and Larry Leggio died when a brick wall collapsed and fell on them during the Oct. 12 fire.

The report is the first official explanation of why Mesh, 39, and Leggio, 43, were in the alley on the building’s east side when the collapse occurred.

Produced by a team of senior fire officials and union representatives, the report includes 14 recommendations, calling first for a policy on how firefighters should work around building collapse zones. The report goes on to suggest more than a dozen new policies on emergency decision-making, training and communication, among other topics.

The report recommended these steps:

1. Develop a collapse zone policy using industry standards to require visual markers of collapse zones with lighted beacons or colored incident scene tape.

2. Update communication policies for emergencies, critical information exchanges and radio calls.

3. Offer firefighters and officers a training program on situational awareness. Develop a system to size up the scene of a fire using risk-versus-reward thinking. The department cannot depend on any one person to a make all decisions about risk with the current approach.

4. Update the management system manual to include current practices and new standards, including clear instructions on how emergencies should be organized at the tactical level. The incident commander should have a safety officer at all incidents. The initial sizing-up of a fire should consider the type and condition of a building and possible structural weaknesses.

5. Train all firefighters on safety officer duties. Safety officers should not be focused on tasks, but rather on overall safety.

6. Train all emergency personnel in building construction, which has changed over the past 20 years. Recognize critical structural weaknesses in buildings and signs of collapse.

7. Ensure that all personnel wear the assigned protective gear. A department culture that allows some gear to not be worn must end.

8. Develop and use an incident accountability system for emergencies. The existing policy on accountability is impractical, outdated and inefficient for emergency scenes and has not been used consistently.

9. Write policies and procedures in a different format. Some of the department’s rules are written in a way suggesting flexibility in complying with them. All policies must comply with state and federal safety regulations.

10. Form investigation teams for serious injury incidents according to industry standards.

11. Develop a behavioral health training, referral and educational program that addresses peer counseling, suicide prevention and intervention. This is crucial to ensuring the emotional health and recuperation of department members.

12. Review mayday communication policies in light of possible confusion at the regional level when firefighters are in distress.

13. Develop an officer development program to improve leadership and management skills in emergency and non-emergency incidents.

14. Improve collection of building data used in emergencies, including high-hazard risk identification and fire prevention records.

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