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For Now, 'It's About The Firemen' Say Business Owners On Fire-Damaged Independence Avenue

As the brisk morning morphed into a warm autumn afternoon, residents and business owners began to gather on the perimeters of the site along Kansas City's Independence Avenue where two veteran firefighters died saving civilians in an apartment building fire Monday night.

Seventeen-year Kansas City firefighter Larry Leggio and John Mesh, 13 years with the force, died outside the structure when part of the burning building crashed down on them .  According to reports, they had just brought two residents from upper story apartments to safety.

Gazing at three pumper trucks still drenching the site with hoses, local residents Cindy Spruk and Lois Swimmer, both 54, said they'd heard the firemen had lived in the neighborhood.

“We just come down here because it’s sad what happened,” Spruk said. "We're a tight knit community."

The women said they used the businesses on this strip of Independence Avenue daily, and have no idea when they'll reopen. But right now, Swimmer said everyone is thinking about the lost firefighters.

"Our hearts go out to their families," she said.

The Catholic Charities at 12th Street and Benton Boulevard had prayers for the lost firefighters this morning, neighbors told me. There were blue ribbons tied around the trees on the block of the smoldering rubble.

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR
Albert Alcanter rode his motorcycle from Kansas City, Kansas, to memorialize the firemen. He says he has relatives who fight fires.

Seventy-year-old Albert Alcanter arrived on his motorcycle from Kansas City, Kansas, to put up a makeshift memorial. Taping silk flowers and a sign to a light pole, Alcanter said through tears his wife had an uncle who died fighting a fire and that he has relatives who are firemen today.

“I got cousins who are firefighters and I pray for them every day. It’s a bad job,” he said.

On the other side of the police tape across Independence Avenue, Jerry James, owner of Snyder’s Grocery, stood and stared at his damaged property immediately east of the still smoldering site.  Glass windows were broken out and smoke had stained the outer walls.

“(The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) let me in a few minutes ago,” he said. “There’s water and glass on the floor. Debris everywhere.”

He doesn’t know when he’ll be able to open back up.  He knows the community relies on his store and the services it provides, but right now the human loss, he says, is more important.

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR
Jerry James says residents cash their pay checks at Snyder's, the grocery store next to the fire site is now closed until further notice.

“Yes, this is the first day that store has been closed for 43 years. But we can fix stuff, right now, it’s about the firemen," he said.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @LauraZig.

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
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