Kansas City Firefighters Fountain and Memorial
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.
Backstory and Context
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.
Batten, John. “Kansas City remembers explosion that killed six KCFD firefighters.” KSHB. November 29, 2013. Accessed June 30, 2018. https://www.kshb.com/news/local-news/kansas-city-remembers-explosion-that-killed-six-kcfd-firefighters
Elder, Ray. “History of KCFD: From 1868 to 2006.” KCFD Retired Fire Fighters Association. Accessed June 30, 2018. http://kcfdretired.org/index.cfm?zone=/unionactive/view_page.cfm&page=KCFD20History
“Firefighters Fountain and Memorial.” City of Fountains Foundation. July 10, 2016. Accessed June 30, 2018. http://www.kcfountains.com/single-post/2016/07/06/Firefighters-Memorial-Fountain
“Firefighters Fountain and Memorial.” Kansas City Parks and Recreation. Accessed June 30, 2018. http://kcparks.org/places/firefighters_-fountain-2/
Lawson, Ben. “Taste & See KC: Firefighters Fountain and Memorial.” KSHB. June 5, 2017. Accessed June 30, 2018. https://www.kshb.com/lifestyle/tasteseekc/taste-see-kc-firefighters-fountain-and-memorial
Long-Middleton, Matthew and Ross Stinemetz. “The History of the Kansas City Fire Department.” KCUR. September 27, 2013. Accessed June 30, 2018. http://kcur.org/post/history-kansas-city-fire-department#stream/0
midtownkcposter. “Fountain honors fallen firefighters.” Midtown KC Post. March 25, 2013. Accessed June 30, 2018. http://midtownkcpost.com/fountain-honors-fallen-firefighters-2/
“Memorial wall to be added to KC Firefighters Fountain.” KMBC News. March 18, 2014. Accessed July 1, 2018. http://www.kmbc.com/article/memorial-wall-to-be-added-to-kc-firefighters-fountain/3681447
“The Fountain for Fallen Firefighters.” Garden Fountains & Outdoor Décor. Accessed June 30, 2018. https://www.garden-fountains.com/pages/the-fountain-for-fallen-firefighters
Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Firefighters_Fountain_Kansas_City_MO.jpg
Image 2: http://www.barbaragrygutis.com/kansas-city-firefighters-memorial-1/