Pilot lights not turned off at JJ's Restaurant before explosion - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Pilot lights not turned off at JJ's Restaurant before explosion


JJ's Restaurant employees did not turn off the pilot lights for the stove and hot water heater before an explosion ripped through the restaurant.

The staff had extinguished all candles and pilot flames.

The Kansas City Fire Department determined that the Feb. 19 explosion was an accident after a Heartland Midwest construction crew struck a gas line, allowing natural gas to build up inside the restaurant at 910 W. 48th St.

The fire department released the report at 2 p.m. Wednesday about the four-alarm fire. The report concludes that the origin of the fire was in the kitchen's cooking area and uncontained liquid gas was ignited.

The explosion occurred at 6:04 p.m. Megan Cramer, a server at JJ's, was killed, and 15 others were injured including JJ's employees, Heartland Midwest workers and Missouri Gas Energy crews. Cramer's body was found the next day covered by debris in the bar area.

A Heartland Midwest worker called 911 at 4:54 p.m. to report that they had struck a gas line. The Kansas City Fire Department sent a truck out, which arrived at 5:04 p.m. Missouri Gas Energy crews showed up about 5:15 p.m. They said they had sent for equipment from Raymore.

Within a few minutes of the MGE workers arriving, firefighters turned the scene over to those workers and left at 5:17 p.m.

Firefighters who first arrived to the scene on the gas line said they went inside and warned JJ's employees about the gas leak.

"Upon entrance we could smell gas and told management to put out all ignition sources in the kitchen and throughout the establishment," the first responding firefighters said in a report. "Staff started to extinguish all candles on tables and the manager informed us that they were shutting down the kitchen and all ignition sources."

Before clearing the scene, firefighters said they told JJ's employees that the gas company was working to turn off the leak but "stressed again that JJ's management should keep all ignition sources off, and wait for the all clear from MGE."

But what bothers master plumber Dick Ray isn't the underground boring that caused the gas to leak.

"You get all the utilities located and you hope that all the utility locations are correct, and you start drilling and you hope that you don't hit anything. But you hit stuff all the time," Ray said.

It was the response to the leak that troubled him.

"I hate to fix blame, but I really believe that if the gas company thought that there shouldn't be an ignition source in JJ's and that it was important to eliminate ignition sources, they should have taken responsibility for that because they're the experts in that," Ray said.

Ray questions why officials with far more knowledge didn't intervene more decisively early on.

"The people at JJ's are great restaurateurs, and they know how to make a fine meal. But they don't know about spark ignition furnaces and commercial water heaters," Ray said.

Ray says simply shutting off the gas at the meter is a lot quicker than finding all the pilots in the building but also addresses other potential ignition sources besides a simple pilot.

"I think the gas company should have gone out to the gas meter, taken a wrench, turned the gas off. It would have taken five seconds to shut the gas off," Ray said.

A separate report says that firefighters told JJ's employees "to have the candles and pilot lights on the stove and hot water heater to be shut off for safety of the people inside JJ's Restaurant."

A JJ's manager told a fire investigator the day after the explosion that firefighters had advised to put out flames from candles and pilot flames on the stove and hot water heater.

"He stated that they did tell him to put out the candles and the pilot flames on the stove and hot water heater," the report says. "I asked him if they got all the flames out and he said they only put out the candles and turn [sic] off the stove but did not turn out the pilot lights for the stove or hot water heater."

Calls poured into 911 following the explosion.

"On arrival, there was evidence of an apparent explosion, a large body of fire and very little of the original ... building [JJ's Restaurant] standing," the report says. "The fire extended upwards more than 100 feet from the roofline."

Flames were shooting toward a nearby five-story building and eventually flames damaged a two-story nearby medical and spa building.

"Occasionally blue flames were visible emanating from the ground on a west side of the building, indicating natural gas leaking from the ground," the report says. "Companies found victims of the blast in front of the restaurant, but none were found using a quick search of the collapsing structure."

MGE workers opened the pavement in two locations to close the gas line that was feeding the flames. It would take two hours to get the line shut off.

Cadaver dogs were brought in to search for Cramer and a second person who was feared to be missing but was later found.

"Much time was spent looking for a victim without success in deteriorating conditions," the report says. "There were waist-deep holes full of water and frigid conditions, and crews had been operating for hours."

The search finished at 2 a.m. Feb. 20 because of the conditions. Cramer's body was found once the search resumed after day break.

KCTV5's Betsy Webster and Chris Oberholtz contributed to this report.

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