The Kansas City Fire Department on Thursday made a major change in the way it responds to gas leaks, after it was highly questioned for its response to the JJ’s restaurant explosion.
In what he said will be his final statement on the event, Fire Chief Paul Berardi announced that the department will stay on the scene of any gas leak until the situation posing a risk is resolved. The department will also begin sending a battalion chief and a fire unit with monitoring equipment to all gas leak calls.
The department caught flack for responding to the initial 911 call of the leak at JJ’s on Feb. 19, but then leaving about 20 minutes later. The popular restaurant blew up within another 40 minutes, at 6:02 p.m. One woman died and another 15 people were injured in the blast.
In a report released earlier this week, the department said Missouri Gas Energy workers assured them the gas levels were fine, so they left the utility in charge, which is standard practice. The next day, Mayor Sly James defended the response as city policy, saying “Fire does not do gas.”
In fact, the city’s emergency response plan calls for public safety officials – and not private company employees – to decide on gas leak evacuations, even minor threats from explosions.
Firefighters will now consult with the gas company on leak calls, Berardi said, but crews will stay on the scene until gas flow has lessened and readings are within an acceptable range.
“Injuries to the public and the loss of property weigh heavily on firefighters, whether in major events such as this or in the fires and accidents we address every day,” Berardi said. “KCFD accordingly reviews all major operations, especially those involving injury or a fatality, for the purpose of improving firefighters’ ability to better protect human life and property.”