WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – November 21, 1968 is a dark day for the Wichita Fire Department, that day, four members of the department died in the line of duty.
Fire Chief Thomas McGaughey, Chief Inspector Merle Wells, Firefighter Jimmy L. Austin and Firefighter Dale Mishler were a part of the team trying to fight a fire at the Yingling Chevrolet building in the 300 block of South Topeka.
The fire was above the ceiling, but as the temperature rose, the frame of the building weakened.
Firefighters that survived the collapse say a pop was the only warning they had a split second before the roof caved in.
Family, those who were at the scene, and people hoping to honor the fallen came together Monday morning as a plaque was unveiled near the site of the fire.
Wilson, North Carolina Fire Chief Don Oliver was one of the first on the scene that night. Now, nearing 50 years of service, he says the night still stands out vividly in his mind,
“In that 50 years…worst night of my life,” he said. “It was almost surreal, I just talked to Jimmy Austin about 20 minutes before he passed.”
The memorial Monday gave Oliver closure, but also gave him the opportunity to meet others with close ties to the tragedy, including Dale Mishler’s daughter, Tara Braland.
Monday morning, he spoke to her with kind words about her father, “for him to be able to speak to me about my dad and that he was with my dad…I don’t know, it’s just like a family,” Braland said choking back tears. “The firefighters here, they don’t lose their passion for their fallen.”
According to the Wichita Fire Department, this incident was their single largest loss of life.