KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Two firefighters involved in rescuing two residents from a burning Kansas City building died after a wall collapsed on them, authorities said.
Fire Chief Paul Berardi said two other firefighters were injured Monday night as the massive fire engulfed the building comprising businesses and apartments on the city’s northeast side.
“They did not die in vain,” he told KSHB-TV Monday night. “They saved two civilians, carried them out of the second floor on ladders, before the wall collapsed.”
All firefighters were accounted for and outside the building when part of the second story apparently caved in, forcing a wall to collapse outwards about 30 feet and trapping the four firefighters who had been working to protect a nearby grocery store from the blaze, Berardi said at a news conference Tuesday.
Soon after, two mayday calls indicated firefighters were in “urgent distress,” he said. A rapid intervention team witnessed the collapse and pulled them from the rubble. The firefighters were rushed to hospitals, where two were pronounced dead, he said.
Berardi appeared to be fighting back tears as he identified the dead as 17-year department veteran Larry J. Leggio, 43, and 13-year veteran John V. Mesh, 39.
He said two people were rescued from the building shortly before the collapse but on Tuesday he didn’t indicate what role the injured and dead firefighters played in that rescue. He said another person also may have been rescued from inside the structure.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those lost and injured and with their peers throughout KCFD,” he said, adding that “the outpouring of condolences has been amazing.”
One of the firefighters was treated and released from a hospital Monday night and the other could be released Tuesday, he said. Fire crews remained at the scene Tuesday morning, but the fire was under control.
Berardi said the cause of the fire did not appear to be suspicious but that a response team from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would help with the investigation.
Mayor Sly James said he was praying for the firefighters.
“Unfortunately situations like this really bring home to all of us the dangers that firefighters and police officers confront every day,” he said.
Bo Tran, the building’s owner, said he hadn’t received any information about what caused the blaze. He said the building included 16 apartment units, with about 20 residents. He said there had been a fire in an apartment unit five or six months ago but that the damage had been repaired and he didn’t know its cause.
The commercial tenants included payday loan and tax businesses, a nail salon and a bar.
“I feel hurt,” Tran said. “I lost my building, but I am more hurt because two firefighters died.”
Rachelle Horn, 41, of Kansas City, said she stopped Monday to watch the fire and then witnessed the collapse and emergency crews performing CPR on one of the firefighters as he was pulled from the debris.
“To experience the whole thing made me feel a little nervous and sad,” she said Tuesday upon returning to see the aftermath of the fire.
Funeral arrangements were pending for Leggio, who was married, and Mesh, who leaves a wife and four young daughters, the department said.