Monday, November 29, 2010

November 29, 1988

At about 0400 November 29, 1988 two Kansas City Fire Department pumpers responded to a report of a truck on fire at 87th Street and about Hickman Mills Drive--about where the future U.S. 71 Highway would pass as it was constructed north. Firefighters were aware that explosives were stored at the site, but had no idea of the breadth of that storage. At 0407 one trailer full of ammonium nitrate--the same substance that was used to bring down the federal building in Oklahoma City, exploded. This was followed by a second explosion about 40 minutes later. The two explosions killed six firefighters, completely demolishing the pumper trucks, and leaving huge craters in the land scape. It is well known that arson was the cause of the initial fires, but the investigation has been riddled with questions and even now some cast doubt on the conviction of the individuals that were charged with the crime.

The explosion was of such force that it was heard 30-40 miles from the site. The concussion broke many windows in the nearby area, and people were evacuated until it was clear that it was safe. I was not here at the time, but I met several people who were living just south of the site at Nob Hill Apartments at Bannister (95th St) and U.S. 71 who told me they were literally bounced out of bed by the force of the two explosions.

Killed that day were Thomas M. Fry, Gerald Halloran, Luther Hurd, James Kilventon Jr, Robert McKarnin, and Michael Oldham. The men, here listed in alphabetical order, worked on pumper 30 and pumper 41. I was watching some old video from the news casts, and the most shattering video was the site of the men wandering around the empty bay of pumper 30's station, trying to make sense of the loss.

Photos, from the Kansas City Star's archives. Top, the site after the explosion. You can see the remains of the trucks. Bottom, the memorial built on the site honoring the lost men.


Capt. Schmoe said...

Thanks, Observer for reminding us of this tragedy. I was a fairly young firefighter at the time and was both saddened and shocked to hear of the disaster.

It was an eye opener for me, how things can catch you by surprise with tragic results.

Thanks again.

Capt. Schmoe said...

Next time I get to KC, I will definitely visit this memorial. Thanks again.

Groucho K. Marx said...


If you have access to the Channel 5 archive videos- I was the long-haired civilian at Station 30- where I was awaiting word of my buddy and brother's best friend Tom Fry.

I had just moved back from Austin TX and was living near the Sports Complex at the time when the first blast went off. Shook me out of bed.

Saw the 2nd- more powerful explosion out the south window seconds before the blast wave hit.

Through it all- my longtime friend and chief fire dispatcher at the time Phil Wall kept calling out over the FD dispatch channel- "Pumper 30- Pumper 41- please answer."

A sad time for a lot of us that chilly- late November morning in 1988.

Great post and thanx TO...


the observer said...


I think I found it--we were all younger then...

Thurman Mitchell--a class act and the right guy for the job--did the report for Ch. 5.

I was still in Burlington, VT, a fairly new RN, and a scanner listening fire and EMS buff. Dennis Smith's Firehouse magazine gave the incident a lot of coverage.

I too have heard the radio recording. Heartrending.

Thanks for commenting and sharing the memories.


the observer said...

Capt. Schmoe:

It's right about where it happened--the limestone bluffs rising above. 87th Street is a complicated exit--US 71 elevates after you go down the ramp from the south. From the north you go to ground level. The monument is east of the interchange. You might be able to see it from above.

A painful reminder to always be on your toes.

Kansas City now requires placards on commercial buildings and trailers indicating any hazardous materials within using recognized colors, numbers and symbols. The conscientious are mindful that those signs are there because of this incident.

Thanks for commenting.

The Observer

Bob G. said...

Holy crap!
That's horrendous.

I didn't know about this...that had to have been devastating on SO many levels!

Glad to see a memorial for the fallen.
There ARE people that never forget the sacrifice...and that shows the capacity for love within the human race, no matter how bad things seem around us.

Great post.

Thanks for sharing.

the observer said...

It would be worth a Google to read some of the news stories--also video has been stashed on YouTube.

Pretty amazing,especially since no one had a clue at first what had happened.

Today we would think first of a terrorist attack...

Thanks for reading


Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
What a terrible tragedy. I am going to read up on this.

Thanks to fire fighters everywhere, all our first responders.

It's good to remember how hard this job is and how hard we make it on them.

Ann T.

R. Lane said...

I remember this. I was litterally knocked out of bed but had no idea why until later when I drove by the site on the way to work. If I remember correctly, it was about one mile from where I lived just off US71 and Red Bridge Road while attending DeVry University.

Anna Lunn said...

R.I.P to all 6 of you firefighters that gave your lives that day. I will never forget this day as Micheal Oldham was my Uncle. I remember that day way too well and I was only 4 1/2 years old. We recieved a phone call letting us know what happened.

I will always Love you and will remember this day forever. You are in my heart and mind always and forever. Love you Uncle Mike. Gone but never forgotten.

Love your Neice, Anna