Fountain honors fallen firefighters

 Midtown resident Paul Ferguson wins the latest fountain contest by identifying the Firefighters’ Fountain at Penn Valley Park.

The sculpture is by Tom Corbin, an acclaimed local artist whose work includes several Kansas City fountains. Byron Gash designed the fountain that serves as a memorial and tribute to city firefighters.

The fountain’s dedication in 1991 was prompted by the worst firefighter disaster in city history – an explosion that killed six firefighters.

That incident began on Nov. 29, 1988, when an early morning call reported two fires at a road construction site near U.S. Highway 71 and 87th Street. One involved a  pickup truck and the other a nearby small storage trailer.

Apparently there was no warning on the trailer that it held explosives – 25,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil. A dispatcher told firefighters of possible explosives in the area but not what or where, according to a report by the U.S. Fire Administration/Department of Homeland Security.

Firefighters may have thought the explosives were all in other marked storage structures that held dynamite, the report states.

The burning trailer exploded, killed two pumper crews and destroyed their vehicles in a blast that broke windows 10 miles away.

It also set off another explosion at a nearby trailer that contained ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, leaving two smoldering craters among the twisted metal.

Veteran firefighters Thomas Fry, Gerald Halloran, Luther Hurd, James Kilventon Jr, Robert McKarnin and Michael Oldham died that day.

Five men were convicted for the arson fire deaths and sentenced to life in prison in a case that raised questions about whether others were involved or evidence was withheld.

The fountain is among half of the 48 city fountains that need repairs. The weekly fountain contests are intended to call attention to the fountains and to help the City of Fountains Foundation raise about $2.7 million to repair eight fountains in the most need.

The winners get two tickets to the Jiggle Jam Family Music Festival over Memorial Day weekend, courtesy of the foundation.

Donations for fountain repairs can be sent to City of Fountains Foundations, 4049 Central, Kansas City, Mo, 64111.

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