Honoring fallen firefighters 60 Years after Southwest Boulevard blast

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Firefighters from both sides of the state line gathered Friday to remember one of the deadliest fires in metro area.

The explosion at Continental Oil 60 years ago changed firefighting forever. Six men lost their lives attempting to prevent the massive fire from spreading across the city.

"It came over the news, on TV," said Tom Bartels, whose father died in the fire. "My cousin screamed. She didn't know what to do."

It was one of the first big blazes captured on live television as WDAF brought cameras down Signal Hill just across the state line to broadcast the inferno at the Kansas gas station.

Capt. George Bartels was one of the victims. His son, Tom, was only 5 years old.

Although he doesn't have many memories of his father, he does remember that his family was moving into a new home at the time.

"After everything happened, all the firefighters came and cleaned that new house up for us, helped us all," Tom Bartels said. "And they have always helped us through all these years. So that's why we want to remember them and everybody else who has fallen."

Five Kansas City, Missouri, firefighters and another man helping them died in an explosion during the fire. 100 others suffered injuries.

More than 500 firefighters from both sides of the state line were called in to battle the blaze.

"They were wheeling away all the firemen killed at the time," said Bob Umphress, one of the firefighters called in to help. "Helmets were laying on the ground, smoking. Gloves with fingers, looked like fingers, but it wasn't. It was the skin of their fingers and hands like a snake sheds its skin. It was pretty eerie."

Afterwards, above-ground storage tanks for flammable fuels disappeared as new laws required underground storage of gasoline with pressure relief valves.

The big blaze also helped bring to improvements in fire fighting protective gear and streamlined the mutual aid process, making it easier for overwhelmed fire agencies to call in help from neighbors.

All of the men who died in the fire were under 43 years old, killed during the prime of their lives.

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