- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Two Kansas City firefighters who were killed in October when a building collapsed had been positioned in a dangerous place where debris could fall, a newspaper analysis shows.

The alley where 39-year-old John Mesh and 43-year-old Larry Leggio died Oct. 12 had been declared a “collapse zone,” The Kansas City Star (http://bit.ly/1LXlTUI ) reported based on interviews and an analysis of radio traffic recordings. Mesh and Leggio were among a half-dozen firefighters working to keep a fire from spreading to an empty grocery store next door.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which is investigating the fire, is clear about what is acceptable inside those zones, and wrote in a report about a 2012 building collapse in Philadelphia that that “imminent risk to a firefighter’s life to save a building is unacceptable.”

Kansas City Fire Chief Paul Berardi told the newspaper that firefighters should not have been stationed in the alley. “You have an order to evacuate, you evacuate,” he said. “It’s an order.”

Yet, Berardi and others in his department are still unsure what went wrong and has yet to begin formal interviews. Emotions are still too “raw” for that, Berardi said.

The Jackson County prosecutor has charged the owner of a nail salon on the first floor of the building with arson and two counts of second-degree murder.

Dan Werner, who suffered serious injuries in the collapse and has yet to return to work, said he has not been interviewed. He told the newspaper he had entered the alley with a captain who left to consult a chief or another captain on next steps. Werner said he did not know a collapse zone had been established that night but is confident his supervisors would not have put his life and others’ lives in danger.

“I completely trust them; they always make good decisions,” he said.

Werner said firefighters were in the alley for two or three minutes before the collapse. It’s unclear from interviews who ordered firefighters into the alley, and Werner said he wasn’t sure.

As for evacuating the alley, Berardi said it’s possible the firefighters in the alley had not heard the call for a collapse zone.

Berardi said the NIOSH report will provide an unbiased, independent assessment, which could take a year to complete.

“They don’t pull any punches,” he said. “It’s not always what the fire chief would like to hear.”

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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