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.
JJ’s restaurant was leveled by an unintentional explosion that probably was ignited by pilot lights in the kitchen, thanks to the nick in the natural gas line outside the building, according to a report released by the Kansas City Fire Department on Wednesday.
As several investigations continue into the explosion of JJ’s Restaurant, the role Missouri Gas Energy played in its response to the emergency is being questioned by experts and a witness who say the utility didn’t follow industry standards or its own advice.
Although its own safety instructions for gas leaks to its customers call for evacuating the premises immediately, MGE didn’t do that at the Feb. 19 incident. In fact, the MGE workers on the scene didn’t suggest that people leave the popular wine bar until 51 minutes after the initial 911 call.
As of mid-week, four people remained hospitalized from the gas explosion and fire that destroyed JJ’s restaurant on the Plaza. One employee, Megan Cramer, died in the blast, and a memorial service is scheduled for Monday.
A lot of questions still surround how the situation was handled, including the timing of the evacuation and whether the explosion itself could have been avoided. While investigations are ongoing, KCUR’s Elana Gordon reports on how the region’s medical community responded, and how another crisis, the Hyatt Skywalk Collapse in 1981, has helped shape the region’s capacity to respond to large-scale events.
Local and federal officials are trying to piece together exactly what happened last Tuesday evening, when a natural gas leak led to an explosion just west of the Country Club Plaza. The explosion and resulting fire at JJ’s restaurant killed one woman, and injured 15.
The victim is presumed to be 46-year-old Megan Cramer, a native of Springfield, and a longtime resident of the Plaza. Staff and regulars of JJ’s are not only mourning her loss, but the loss of a community that had formed around drinks and meals at the restaurant.