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Archive for Thursday, January 2, 1992

S YEAR FILLED WITH UPS AND DOWNS

January 2, 1992

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For every piece of good news that came out of the Lawrence Fire Department in 1992, it seemed there was a piece of bad news to match it.

And the highs and lows could hardly have been further apart.

The good news that damage estimates would be millions of dollars less than 1991 was countered, for instance, by that of a firefighter being arrested on duty and charged with first-degree murder.

Another high: Department receives new pumper-ladder truck. Low: Another truck touches off a five-vehicle chain-reaction accident.

"It has been kind of a strange year," said Kathy Saunders, management analyst, during a New Year's Eve interview.

Saunders, who compiled a list of memorable events from 1992 at the request of Fire Chief Jim McSwain, said one reason the year was so different was that virtually nothing really noteworthy happened until June.

On June 4, a ladder truck driven by firefighter James A. King struck the rear of a stopped car at 23rd and Iowa. The impact sparked a chain reaction accident that damaged three other vehicles.

FIREFIGHTERS said the truck's brakes failed.

On July 2, there was more bad news. On that day, firefighters extinguished what would turn out to be the year's most costly blaze at the Southridge apartment building, 1732 W. 24th. But with the bad news came good news: Damage in that fire was a wisp of smoke compared to 1991's most costly blaze, which caused $12.8 million damage to Hoch Auditorium at Kansas University.

Later in the month, the fire department received a Quint ladder-pumper truck. Saunders said August brought the beginning of an on-site firefighting education program taught by Kansas City (Kan.) Community College instructors at Fire Station No. 1, 745 Vt.

BUT THE month began on a low note. Firefighter Ronnie Alane Caldwell, 26, was arrested on first-degree murder charges on Aug. 1 while he was on duty at Fire Station No. 1.

Caldwell, who was hired in December 1991, is scheduled to go on trial Jan. 11 in the shooting death of Jeffrey Len Holly, 24. Another man charged in the murder, Rodney Harris, 26, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of aiding a felon and was assigned to a community corrections program.

Caldwell resigned from the deparment on Aug. 2.

Also during August, firefighter Jim McKenzie suffered a fractured skull when a piece of equipment fell on him.

Firefighters reported that McKenzie was using a motorized pulley system to hoist a firehose to dry on a tower when a 10-pound steel hook used to lift the hose came off a chain and hit him.

McKenzie was one of two firefighters who suffered serious injuries during the year.

FIREFIGHTER Clifford Smith suffered a dislocated ankle after he became entangled in hoses and fell while fighting a fire Sept. 23 at a mobile home at 1900 W. 31st.

"We had a couple of fairly longer-term type injuries, which is always hard on the department," Saunders said.

The Sept. 23 fire also resulted in the first fire fatality in Lawrence since 1989. Mark Fox, 4, suffered fatal injuries in the blaze, which was started by another child playing with a cigarette lighter.

Saunders said that although 1992 was up and down, the year wound down on several positive notes.

In October, she said, firefighters and city officials held a dedication ceremony for Mark Blair Court, a West Lawrence road named for a Lawrence firefighter who died in the line of duty. About that same time, she said, the fire department received permission to start building new drill tower at Fire Station No. 2, 1940 Haskell.

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