Kansas City firefighter deaths often followed by innovations

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Some Kansas City blazes that claimed the lives of firefighters over the past half-decade have led to safety innovations that became commonplace nationally.

Two Kansas City firefighters were killed last Monday when the wall of a burning, multi-story brick building collapsed onto them and two others.

A rapid intervention team, or RIT team, rushed in and pulled the four men from beneath the rubble. Two of the firefighters survived but two others — 43-year-old Larry J. Leggio and 39-year-old John Mesh — didn’t make it.

The Kansas City Fire Department developed the RIT teams after the 1999 death of Battalion Chief John Tvedten, who became disoriented, got lost and ran out of air after an evacuation ordered during a four-alarm warehouse blaze, The Kansas City Star reported (http://bit.ly/1GKBlCF).

Rescuers could hear the alarm bells ringing on his air tank but could not find the 47-year-old father in time to save him.

Tvedten was known for promoting firefighter safety and had suggested Kansas City develop such teams, which are now standard in the industry.

Two of the worst days in the fire department’s history also sparked innovations that have helped improve safety for firefighters.

In 1959, five firefighters and a civilian died after a 20,000-gallon tank of gasoline exploded into a massive fireball at a service station while two workers were filling their truck’s gas tank. The fire spread and enveloped larger tanks. More than 200 firefighters worked for hours to control the blaze.

Firefighters were using 12 streams of water on the blaze when the biggest tank exploded, sending out a fireball that injured scores of firefighters from Kansas and Missouri.

Afterward, departments across the country developed better and safer techniques for fighting fires involving flammable liquids. The tragedy also led to new safety standards for the storage and handling of hazardous materials.

In 1988, a burning trailer full of ammonium nitrate exploded at a south Kansas City construction site, killing the six firefighters who were there to extinguish the blaze.

The firefighters were aware that explosives were stored in the area, but they didn’t know what the trailer contained. After the incident, placement of placards indicating the presence of hazardous materials inside buildings and vehicles became standard.

The city also passed a sales tax as a result of that tragedy to fund a hazardous materials response team. The unit was called HazMat 71, after Pumpers 30 and 41, the two crews killed in the explosion.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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