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Fallen Kansas City Firefighters To Get Full Public Honors

Sam Zeff

In official parlance, the death of a firefighter is called a Line of Duty Death, or LODD. And the protocols and procedures for handling one run to several pages. The formal, sometimes antiquated, language of the protocol lends it the gravity with which fire officials approach this somber task. 

"Our methods may change, but our goals remain the same as they were in the past, to save lives and to protect property, sometimes at a terrible cost. This is what we do, this is our chosen profession, this is the tradition of the fire fighter," one section of the protocol reads. 

Included now in this tradition will be firefighters Larry Leggio and John Mesh, who will be given a public memorial Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City. The responsibility for planning this event and the private funerals that will follow has fallen mostly to Local 42 of the International Association of Firefighters. 

"It's a tremendous amount of work. I've been at the union hall this week until one o'clock in the morning, but I've got a keep going forward," said IAFF Local 42 President Bill Galvin. 

For the families, he says. 

Galvin says ever since Leggio and Mesh were killed Monday night when a wall of a burning building along Independence Avenue collapsed on them, he has made sure one of his members has been with their families '24/7.' 

"We have someone over there all the time. We make sure they have food, go buy them groceries, clean their house if they need that. If the kids need something, just be there for them," he says. 

Mesh leaves behind a wife and four daughters. Leggio, a wife and his mother. 

Deference to a fallen firefighter's family is threaded throughout the LODD protocol. It starts with instructions on how to notify the next of kin of a death. The protocol then lays out procedures on how to gather information from the family, pick pallbearers and arrange an order of service.

"In all instances, family should enter church ahead of any dignitaries," the protocol states. 

In addition, the protocol outlines what attending firefighters should wear (full dress uniform complete with white gloves, union pins, badge covers), and it also strictly informs the reader of the order in which officials should be seated (the Fire Chief comes first, followed by the Union President and other local union officers). 

Galvin says the memorial Saturday will have some ceremonial touches. 

"We will have a drum and bagpipe corps that will probably play 'Amazing Grace.' That's what usually gets to people's hearts."

This tradition dates back to a time in the last century when the ranks of firefighters (and police) were filled with Irish immigrants, one of the only industries in which they could get employment at that time in America. 

The protocol also calls for a bell ceremony and the reading of the 'Fire Fighter's Prayer.' 

"The bell ceremony symbolizes a time when alarms used to go out by the ringing of a bell. It's the last ringing of the bell for the fallen members. We will ring it three times and say their names," Galvin says. 

Galvin says many Kansas City firefighters will come to the memorial along with the public. Some Kansas City crews will remain on duty during the afternoon but Galvin says several nearby local fire departments are assigning members to cover for those at the memorial. 

"We will have full coverage, no doubt." 

Saturday's public ceremony, as much work as it will take to put on, will not be Leggio's and Mesh's final rites. Private funerals will be held for each of the men next week. 

In one final touch of protocol, Galvin says the department's flags will remain at half-staff until the final funeral is completed Wednesday. 

Kyle Palmer is the editor of the Shawnee Mission Post, a digital news outlet serving Northeast Johnson County, Kansas. He previously served as KCUR's news director and morning newscaster.
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