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Report Says Mistakes Led To Deaths Of Two Kansas City Firefighters

Laura Ziegler
The scene the morning after the building on Independence Avenue in Northeast Kansas City collapsed.

The Kansas City Fire Department released its report of an internal investigation of the events leading up to the deaths of firefighters John Mesh and Larry Leggio in a blaze on Independence Avenue in October. Questions had been raised why two firefighters were still deployed in an alleyway 11 minutes after it had been designated a collapse zone.

The report acknowledges that “the tactical assignment that generated tragic results was placing resources on the D-side of the structure within the designated collapse zone.”

It also notes that firefighters and gear should not have been in the alley.  The report says when that mistake was discovered there was an attempt to communicate with the men and have them evacuate the area, but the building wall collapsed “before the communication could be completed.”

The document refers to “attempting to protect an apparatus in the alley that had been blocked earlier by a utility vehicle” and notes that the collapse zone had not been strictly observed and a number of individuals, including chief officers, had been in it, presumably after it was technically declared unsafe.

The closing section of the report states: “No one factor led to the wall collapse that ultimately took the lives of FAO (Fire Apparatus Operator) Leggio and Firefighter Mesh.  However, it is comprehended departmentally that the enhanced knowledge of fire behavior as well as the development of situational awareness skills will provide improved organizational understanding of risk.”

The report contains a number of suggestions aimed at avoiding similar future tragedies. Among them are more clear and obvious identification of potential collapse zones, improved and more systematic communication policies and more rigorous rules regarding the use of protective gear.

The fire at Independence and Prospect avenues reduced a three-story building, which housed both businesses and apartments, to rubble.

Thu Hong Nguyen, who owned a nail salon in the building, has been charged with setting the blaze and is awaiting trial.  

Steve Bell is afternoon news anchor and business news reporter for KCUR.  He may be reached at 816-235-5173 or by e-mail as steveb@kcur.org

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