Regulators say Missouri Gas Energy didn’t act quickly enough in gas leak that demolished JJ’s Restaurant

Missouri Gas Energy’s responders to the gas leak last year that blew up JJ’s Restaurant, off the Plaza, found that natural gas concentrations in the restaurant were four times higher than the minimum required for an evacuation.

And while the gas company’s workers did tell JJ’s staff to evacuate the building, they acted lackadaisically given the danger at hand, according to a report released on Thursday by the Missouri Public Service Commission.

The blast that wiped out JJ’s on February 19, 2013, also killed one of the restaurant staffers.

The gas leak was triggered by street drilling by Olathe contractor Heartland Midwest, acting on Time Warner Cable’s behalf. The contractor bored a 2-inch-by-2-inch hole into a gas line underneath the pavement on West 48th Street sometime before 4:55 p.m. that afternoon. MGE learned about the gas leak from the Kansas City Fire Department at 4:55 p.m. and within five minutes told a first responder and construction crew about it.

But before an MGE employee could show up, the KCFD arrived at JJ’s. Firefighters noticed the smell of gas and told restaurant workers to put out ignition sources but didn’t tell anyone to evacuate. The KCFD pumper left one minute after MGE’s first responder arrived.

Nearly an hour after MGE learned of the leak, one of its technicians arrived at the scene with a device that reads gas concentrations in the air. (KCFD has those same devices, but the pumper that arrived and left JJ’s didn’t have one.)

The readings registered between 3.5 and 4 percent gas concentration in the air in JJ’s; MGE’s policy requires an evacuation when readings are at least 1 percent.

An MGE employee told a JJ’s manager to evacuate the restaurant, but according to the PSC report, “took no steps to ensure a sense of urgency or to ensure that JJ’s was actually evacuated.”

At 6:02 p.m., the explosion happened, more than an hour after Heartland Midwest punctured the gas line.

The PSC, a utility regulator for Missouri, cited MGE for not following its emergency plan.

Previously, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited JJ’s and Heartland Midwest for their handling of the gas leak.

Categories: News