The Kansas City Firefighters Fountain and Memorial is dedicated to all the firefighters who have lost their lives during the Kansas City Fire Department’s history. It was first installed in 1991 to honor six firefighters who were killed in an explosion in 1988. Located in Penn Valley Park, the memorial originally consisted of three bronze sculptures of firefighters, an eighty-foot wide fountain, and bronze plaques listing the names of fallen firefighters. In 2015 the memorial was updated, with the bronze plaques replaced by illuminated aluminum walls featuring a corrected and expanded list of firefighters.
The first organized
Kansas City Fire Department was established in 1868 in response to the rising
threat of fire in the growing city. It first started off with a single
horse-drawn steam fire engine, and two hand hose carts. The department soon
grew, and adopted the latest firefighting technologies. Fire department Chief
George Hale patented numerous inventions related to firefighting, including a
swinging harness, and the department was said to be an early adopter of the
sliding pole. At the turn of the twentieth century the KCFD gained
international publicity when it was selected to represent the United States at
the International Fire Congress both in London in 1893 and Paris in 1900.
Dozens of Kansas City
firefighters have perished in the line of duty over the years. One of the most
notorious modern incidents was when six firefighters were killed on November
29, 1988. The KCFD was responding to a trailer fire at a construction site for
71 Highway. The trailer turned out to be full of fuel and other dangerous substances,
which ignited in an explosion powerful enough to shake homes and shatter glass
miles away. Thomas Fry, Gerald Halloran, Luther Hurd, James Kilventon Jr,
Robert McKarnin and Michael Oldham were all instantly killed. The fire was
later revealed to be arson, and five men were convicted of the crime.
Following the 1988
disaster, many in Kansas City sought a way to honor the city’s fallen
firefighters. In 1991 a fountain and memorial were erected at the southern end
of Penn Valley Park. The fountain was designed by Larkin Aquatics, and features
48 streams of water from nozzles made of fire hoses. It is 80 feet in diameter
and contains 76,000 gallons of water, making it one of the largest fountains in
the city. Artist Tom Corbin was commissioned to create three bronze sculptures
of firefighters; two stand in the center of the fountain, while another stands
north of the fountain at the memorial. The original memorial consisted of
granite pedestals etched with the names of fallen firefighters.
By 2015, the list of
fallen firefighters on the memorial had become full. Researched also revealed
that several names had been missed, while others were misspelled. To correct
this, a new replacement memorial was designed by artist Barbara Grygutis. It
consists of two, semitransparent, aluminum walls with an updated list of fallen
firefighters. At night the walls are illuminated with blue LED lights. The
original list on the granite pedestals were covered with plaques detailing the
history of the Kansas City Fire Department.