Community reacts to fatal fire which claimed lives of two KCFD veteran firefighters

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Investigators remained on the scene of a building Tuesday that burned Monday night, killing two firefighters.

"Any fire, it's a puzzle to put together how it started, what caused it, how it behaved after it was burning," said Agent John Ham of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The two firefighters were killed after they helped rescue two people: Seventeen-year veteran fire apparatus operator Larry Leggio of Truck 2, and 13-year veteran fire fighter John Mesh of Pumper 10.

At Independence and Prospect a community of neighbors worked together to help each other escape the flames, and yet they are stunned by the deaths of heroes paid to protect them.

According to the fire chief multiple units rushed to the burning building at around 7:30 p.m. Monday because flames could be seen from the building.

"I was just outside trying to count heads and trying to account for people that I knew that lived there or worked for us," said Jerry James, owner of Snyder's market next door.

Snyder's is the lifeblood of the community around Independence and Prospect. Many of the people who lived in the burning building were Snyder's workers or former employees.

"I've been here 28 years, and I kinda feel like I'm as much a part of them as anybody," James said. "They count on us for their grocery needs and their check cashing needs and what not. It's this kind of a small community and we are close knit."

Those in the grocery store first noticed the flames and called 911. And while waiting for help, James says a couple of his people ran inside the burning building, warning those they knew to get out.

"One guy ran in and yelled for another guy, a guy that actually works for us," James said. "(We) got him out, we felt like everybody was out."

And just when James thought everyone was safe, and he and his workers had returned to the store, the unthinkable happened.

"I go back in the store to finish up a few things," James recalled. "The next thing we hear is: 'Get out! Get out now!' from the fire department. That's when the wall fell down. And the brick and mortar and everything blasted through the windows of the store."

The firefighters' warning saved lives, though four were now trapped under the rubble. Barry Jackson is one of the folks who lost his home in the collapsed building.

"There's nothing I can do but move on," Jackson said. "But I thank God for my life. That's more important. I lost everything. I'm hurt for that, but there's nothing I can do but start all over again."

Independence Avenue is likely to be shut down as the investigation continues. Bricks from the collapsed building are inside Snyder's supermarket, meaning the grocery also is likely to remain closed for the foreseeable future.