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On 60th anniversary, firefighters highlight changes deadly Southwest Boulevard fire created

southwest boulevard fire memorial.jpg
Posted at 7:16 AM, Aug 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-16 08:16:53-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When a gasoline tank exploded on Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City, Kansas, on August 18, 1959, it took the lives of six people and changed how American companies store gasoline.

Friday fire departments from both Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, will join at the memorial near the state line at 31st Street and Southwest Blvd for a ceremony to honor the six lives lost.

When John Sirna puts on his firefighter’s uniform today, the KCFD apparatus operator knows his job is a little safer because of the sacrifice of his grandfather. Capt. Peter Sirna died a few days after being injured in the Southwest Boulevard fire.

“With every tragic situation, life lessons are learned, things are approached differently. In that aspect, hopefully countless lives after that fire have been saved,” John Sirna said.

Nationwide, gasoline tanks are now stored underground making them safer and eliminating a lot of the problems which arose from the fire in Kansas City 60 years ago.

“We know now where the weaker spots are, we attack [above-ground tanks] from the sides, cool the tank down, instead of from the ends which are the weaker spots,” said KCFD Deputy Chief Jimmy Walker. “It has definitely changed the tactics and also the storage of fuel.”

The fire claimed the lives of five KCFD members, Capt. Sirna, Capt. George Bartels, Virgil Sams, Delbert Stone and Neal Owen. One civilian, Francis Toomes, died in the fire.