KANSAS CITY, Mo. (FOX4KC)-- Two firefighters were killed in an apartment fire and building collapse on Monday night at Independence and Prospect. They were among four who were injured fighting the two-alarm fire.
The fallen firefighters have been identified as 17-year veteran Larry Leggio of Truck 2 and 13-year veteran John Mesh of Pumper 10. Leggio leaves behind a wife, a mother and many others. Mesh leaves behind a wife, four young daughters as well as many family members.
“Our hearts absolutely go out to the family; both to their peers who are grieving, but also their family members who are at the hospital now,” KCFD Chief Paul Berardi told reporters at the scene.
"The compassion of the community has been amazing," Chief Berardi later said during a news conference on Tuesday. "I especially want to give thanks to KCPD and Truman Medical Center as well as all other partner agencies that work with us daily to serve Kansas City to protect the public."
Kansas City Mayor Sly James released the following statement:
"Tonight's tragic loss is a reminder that Kansas City firefighters put their lives on the line for all of us every day. Our condolences go out to the loved ones of those who made the ultimate sacrifice today, and we pray for recovery of the injured."
Crews arrived to the fire at about 7:30 p.m. on Monday, and rescued two people from the building. Flames could be seen shooting out of the commercial and residential structure. It quickly escalated, with full 2nd alarm requested after arrival. Crews began operating to effect fire suppression. Rescuing operations with ladders took place to help rescue the individuals who were trapped before shifting to defensive operation.
"In defensive operations, all firefighters are required to evacuate the structure and all personnel are to be accounted for," Chief Berardi said. "Evacuation was ordered at 7:52 p.m., and at approximately 8:07 p.m., a collapse was reported on the east side of the structure."
"When I say we went to defensive mode, we went to defensive mode and when I mentioned that all of those that we give a personal accountability report- which is called a PAR in our world-a PAR was received probably, I don't know exactly but probably at 7:55 p.m., 7:58 p.m., I can't remember exactly," he added.
"Two mayday calls were received from the collapsed area indicating firefighters in urgent distress," Chief Berardi adds, referring to the four firefighters that were trapped.
"They located, uncovered and removed, four firefighters from the immediate area," Chief Berardi says.
Ambulances on the scene transported the rescued firefighters to nearby hospitals immediately.
The first ambulance arrived at Truman Hospital just before 8:20 p.m. and the second ambulance arrived at 8:21 p.m. Leggio and Mesh were pronounced dead at the hospital after paramedics, nurses and doctors tried to revive them.
Shortly after, two more firefighters were transported to KU Medicine to be treated for their injuries. One of the two firefighters injured was expected to stay in a hospital overnight, while the other should be released soon.
Chief Berardi says a complete investigation is underway with the KCPD and ATF. He adds that ATF was called in because of expertise. So far, there is no indication of arson. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
"Initially it looked as if it was a backdraft, but it appears now that the second floor collapsed inside the structure forcing the smoke and fire out the front or the A side of the structure," Chief Berardi said. "And that smoke and fire was pushed out probably 20 to 30 feet in addition to pushing the smoke out it also pushed the east wall and it didn't fall like a normal collapse. It was actually pushed out at least 30 feet."
Calling this "the worst day", Chief Berardi spoke about the heroism of the firefighters that died, noting the lives they saved.
“It’s difficult when you live with somebody for 24 hours a day, and you’re laughing and joking one minute and then something like this happens in the line of duty,” Chief Berardi said.
“What is good for their families to remember is that they did not die in vain, they saved two civilians, carried them out of the second floor on ladders before the wall collapsed."