Kansas City remembers explosion that killed six KCFD firefighters

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - As people gathered at the memorial for the explosion that killed six Kansas City firefighters, many said they found it hard to believe 25 years had passed since the disaster.

But it was indeed Nov. 29, 1988 when the firefighters who were responding to a trailer fire on a construction site were killed when 25,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and fuel exploded. 

The explosion cleared out a huge area of the construction site for 71 Highway and moved surrounding houses off their foundations.

When families and friends of the firefighters gathered for the annual memorial service at 87th Street and 71, it was undeniable that time had passed. Parents had aged and children had grown up and had children of their own. Jaqueline Oldham Boylson was three and a half years old when Firefighter Michael Oldham died.

She said the day is always special for her.

"I like hearing stories about him. Seeing the crosses shows the … sacrifice and that the city remembers him," she said.

Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver was Kansas City Mayor Pro Tem at the time of the explosion and had to visit the site as then Mayor Berkley was in China. He said he'll never forget the death and devastation he saw.

"They sacrificed their lives for us," he said.

Congressman Cleaver said it left him with a lifelong respect for firefighters and all who sacrifice for our safety.

"They didn't call ministers or city council members to go on that hill that morning, they called firefighters. And they went up without any reluctance," he observed.

"It's sad obviously for our loss, but so many people have benefitted from it that I'm proud to be a part of it," Boylston said.

The Kansas City tragedy changed the way fire departments all across the country respond to fires involving hazardous materials.

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