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Fire Chief Takes Issue With Content, Tone Of Kansas City Star Story On Deadly Northeast Fire

The Kansas City Star reports firefighters may have died unneccessarily inn the October fire on Independence Blvd.

The lion's share of the Sunday's Kansas City Star was devoted to a report on the Oct. 12 fire that killed two firefightersand seriously injured two others.

The headline: "Firefighters killed in alley shouldn't have been there."

The paper talked to national experts and officials about best practices in fighting fires, like the one that incinerated part of a block of Independence Boulevard near Prospect.

Kansas City Fire Chief Paul Berardi said Monday on KCUR's Up To Datethat he respects the Star’s responsibility and right to look into the tragedy, but the headline, he believes, was unnecessarily inflammatory. He said the department acknowledges something went desperately wrong,  and will be doing a thorough investigation.

"I don't necessarily have a complaint about the article, it was just the tone and impact on my department because emotions are so raw, and the article was written without all the information," he told host Steve Kraske.

The chief said the paper published the piece before it had information about when crucial commands went out. The newspaper indicated reporters had been told they would get that information from the chief, who then failed to provide it.

The story says the firefighters died because they were in what's known as a "collapse zone," a space vulnerable to a fire-compromised building collapse, after the command had gone out to evacuate.

The chief says it's too soon to know this.

"We don't know if that collapse zone was established seven minutes or two minutes prior to the collapase," he said. "That's certainly one thing we'll look into."

The department has not started its investigation two months after the incident occurred. According to the Star, the chief said he felt "emotions were still too 'raw.'"  

Berardi told Kraske the investigation will get under way in early 2016.

"Were gonna look at all our of policies ... from wearing seatbelts to the collapse zone which is (at the) forefront of our mind now," he said, "but there are many things that put us at risk ... and we want to make sure we're operating the safest that we can."

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also is conducting an independent investigation. Berardi said today officials were on the scene within a week of the fire, and that review should be completed within a year.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer at KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @LauraZig or zieglerl@umkc.edu.

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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