Kansas City Fire Department commemorates 30th anniversary of six firefighter’s ultimate sacrifice

Elizabeth Orosco
Northeast News

The Kansas City Fire Department and the community gathered November 29, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the early morning explosion that killed six brave firefighters at a construction site at 87th and Blue River Road.

Six crosses in a row bear the names of the men: Captain Gerald Halloran, Thomas Fry, Luther Hurd, Captain James Kilventon Jr., Robert McKarnin, and Michael Oldham.

On November 29, 1988, an alarm was received at 3:40 a.m. by the KCFD indicating a pickup truck was on fire at a highway construction site. Pumper Company 41 was dispatched and the three firefighters were advised that there may be explosives on site. Pumper Company 30, with three more firefighters, was then dispatched for assistance.

Upon the units arrival, more fires broke out among three separate vehicles, including a trailer, which, unbeknownst to the firefighters, contained major explosive agent: a mixture of ammonium nitrate with fuel oil and aluminum pellets.

The highway project required moving limestone that had been broken up by drilling holes into the rock, placing blasting agent in the hole and detonating it.

An investigation of the incident by Jack Yates reports that of the approximately 50,500 pounds of ammonium nitrate/fuel oil mixture involved in the explosion, about 47,000 pounds contained the 5-percent aluminum mixture, which were divided between two trailers/magazines less than 100 feet apart.

According to workers from the site, the trailers were not placarded when stored.

While both units had been advised of the explosives, they had not been told specifically that the trailer was a magazine, nor what it contained. The pickup truck fire was extinguished and proceeded they to the other fire to assist the second company.

At 4:08 a.m., approximately 22 minutes after the first pumper company arrived and 16 minutes after the second company arrived, a catastrophic explosion occurred, killing all six firefighters.

Forty minutes later, a second explosion occurred, followed by several minor explosions.

Two large craters were left in the ground where the trailers had been. One crater was 80-feet wide and 8-feet deep; the other 100-feet wide and 8-feet deep.

At the time, the ATF did not require labeling of the magazines when parked to make them less susceptible to theft and vandalism.

“By appearing as innocuous trailers, fewer people know what they contain. Unfortunately, as tragically illustrated here, this lack of knowledge also applies to firefighters,” Yates’ investigation report stated.
The report goes on to say that, according to the opinion of the USFA, the tragic incident was in part the result of incomplete or unclear information.

“There exists the possibility that even if the two trailers/magazines had been placarded, or the two officers on the scene had otherwise been aware of the contents of the burning trailer/magazine, they may not have adopted a different course of action.”

While this incident was severely tragic, these brave men did not die in vain, as many regulations were put in place to inhibit similar circumstances to occur again and decrease the chance of further lives being lost.

Kansas Citians enacted a sales tax to support a hazardous-materials team to assist firefighters. Hazmat Unit 71 was created, combining the numbers of the two pumpers lost in the explosion.

Also, Kansas City created a labeling system for structures, which resulted in the diamond-shaped placards indicating the presence of hazardous materials.

Six stone crosses and a flagpole are placed at the site of the blast, and a portion of 87th Street was renamed 30/41 Memorial Drive.

The Firefighters Fountain was dedicated in 1991 on 31st Street as a memorial to all firefighters killed on duty..

Three trees will be planted on site, signifying each decade the firefighters have been gone.

Comments are closed.

  • Operation Santa kicks off today at Della Lamb, serving over 1,000 local residents

    December 7th, 2018
    by

    This project will serve over 1,000 low-income families, giving them all the items needed for a full Christmas.


    Congressman Cleaver announces $25 million grant to improve Buck O’Neil Bridge

    December 7th, 2018
    by

    The Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant will include creating a wider bridge span, separated facilities for pedestrians bicyclists, and connector ramps.


    KC Streetcar offers holiday performances for riders

    December 5th, 2018
    by

    Johanna Pounds Editorial Assistant Northeast News This holiday season, the Kansas City Streetcar is holding its second annual Holiday Jam. […]


    Delivery services offer tips on keeping packages safe this season

    December 5th, 2018
    by

    Johanna Pounds Editorial Assistant Northeast News Online shopping season is upon us. Kicking off with Cyber Monday, online sales increase […]


    Animating the world around us: A profile on Ben Radatz

    December 5th, 2018
    by

    Reese Bentzinger Editorial Assistant Northeast News Even though animator Ben Radatz moved from Kansas City earlier this year to Los […]


  • Northeast Chamber of Commerce discusses Independence MAX and Employer Pass Program at monthly meeting

    December 5th, 2018
    by

    Elizabeth Orosco Northeast News Tuesday, November 27th, the Northeast Chamber of Commerce held their monthly luncheon to discuss the Employer […]


    Historic homes welcome crowds during annual Homes Tour in the Northeast

    December 4th, 2018
    by

    Visitors were able to walk through the homes, meet some of the owners, and see the remarkable restorations that have taken place.


    Online enrollment for KCPS Signature Schools begins today

    December 4th, 2018
    by

    Online enrollment for Kansas City Public School signature schools begins today. Each Signature School has its own enrollment standards and is free for any qualifying child that lives within the KCPS boundaries.


    KC Council debates, holds Paseo name change item until late December

    November 30th, 2018
    by

    After a short but contentious Council debate, the Paseo name change item was held yet again.


    Della Lamb hosts 44th annual Operation Santa

    November 30th, 2018
    by

    Della Lamb Community Center is hosting its 44th-annual Operation Santa, and is still in need of donation items.


  • Local Weather

  • What’s Happening

    retorts illustrated by bryan stalder

    Bed & Breakfast on Gladstone Boulevard

    Northeast News Now in its fourth year of operation, the Inn at 425 remains a labor of love. The evidence […]

    Anatomy of a Hack Piece

    Once again our ol buddies over at The Pitch magazine have broken new ground in an attempt to remain relevant […]