Kansas City fire department changes response rules for gas leaks

Friday, March 15, 2013 | 11:16 a.m. CDT; updated 1:16 p.m. CDT, Friday, March 15, 2013

KANSAS CITY — The Kansas City Fire Department has enhanced its procedures for responding to gas leaks like the one that preceded the fatal explosion at a restaurant last month, Fire Chief Paul Berardi announced.

Berardi said Thursday that a battalion chief and a fire truck equipped with gas level monitoring equipment will be sent on any call involving possible natural gas leaks, The Kansas City Star reported. Firefighters also will stay on the scene until the risk is resolved and consult with gas utility experts to determine if evacuations are necessary.

The new procedures were not in place Feb. 19 when firefighters responded to a call of a gas leak an hour before an explosion and fire destroyed JJ's restaurant, killing one woman and injuring about 15 people. The blast occurred after a contractor ruptured an underground gas pipe.

"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."

The Fire Department said in a report that one pumper truck crew was sent to the reported gas leak near JJ's, and left later after a Missouri Gas Energy employee arrived and said he "had the situation under control" and that the fire crew could leave. The fire crew told restaurant staff to keep all ignition sources off and told them to await an all-clear from the gas company.

City Councilman John Sharp, chairman of the public safety committee, said he was pleased by the fire department changes in procedure.

"It's bad enough to have a tragedy like this but it would be worse if you don't learn from it," Sharp said.

On Wednesday, the city released a report that determined the explosion was caused by the accidental ignition of natural gas vapors that accumulated inside JJ's restaurant. The report said two pilot lights were on at JJ's before the explosion.

A separate investigation is being conducted into the gas line breach.

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