At the site of an explosion that took firefighters' lives, KC created a memorial for all of its fallen firefighters. Thanks to a community fundraising effort, the Firefighters Fountain and Memorial was completed in 1991 at the south end of Penn Valley Park. It features two larger-than-life bronze sculptures of firefighters surrounded by an 80-foot basin with 48 water jets.
Plaques on the metal structures near the fountain list the name of every KC firefighter who has died in the line of duty. These structures were added as a part of a 2015 renovation of the memorial. They also feature blue LED lighting, which makes this a beautiful place to visit in the evening. Penn Valley Park is free and open to all ages.
In November 1988, Kansas City firefighters responded to a late-night report of a burning pickup truck at a highway construction site near Route 71. When they arrived, they found two fires: the truck and what appeared to be a trailer. In fact, the trailer was a magazine storing over eight tons of explosives. About 20 minutes later, an enormous blast took the lives of six firefighters and left a crater eight feet deep. The battalion chief, who was driving to the fire when the explosion blew out his windshield, worked quickly to withdraw other firefighters from the site before the second huge blast.
In 1997, after a nine-year investigation, five people were convicted of setting fire to the explosives. However, one has since been released, and the convictions remain controversial. For many KC residents, the story of this tragedy is not quite over.
Cover image courtesy of Kansas City Parks & Recreation.