Attorney for JJ's employees disputes KCFD explosion report - KCTV5

Attorney for JJ's employees disputes Kansas City Fire's explosion report

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An attorney representing JJ's Restaurant employees vigorously disputes that anyone told managers to turn off the restaurant's pilot lights before a deadly explosion ripped through the business.

"JJ's employees are very upset that someone is saying they were told to go in there and turn off the pilot lights because they were never told that," attorney Grant L. Davis said. "That is upsetting to them and someone should correct that."

The Kansas City Fire Department released a report this week that said JJ's Restaurant employees did not turn off the pilot lights for the stove and hot water heater before the Feb. 19 explosion. A contractor laying fiber optics, Heartland Midwest, struck a gas line, which allowed natural gas to accumulate. The fire department said the gas built up and ignited inside the restaurant's kitchen area, apparently by the pilot lights.

"I think the pilot lights had nothing to do with this," Davis said. "If you look at the water heater, the pilot light on the water heater, the water heater is still intact. It had nothing to do with the explosion."

Unclear was whether the stove's pilot light could have ignited the blast.

JJ's server Megan Cramer was killed and 15 others, including Heartland Midwest and Missouri Gas Energy workers, were injured.

The Kansas City Fire Department claims that firefighters told JJ's employees to extinguish all ignition sources. The fire department claims managers were told "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."

Davis disputes that, and says that shouldn't have been the responsibility of JJ's employees.

Attorneys and inspectors for federal and state agencies as well as potential plaintiffs and defendants are spending three days at the site. Davis noted that the gas meter outside the restaurant still has not been turned off.

"The meter has never been turned off," he said. "It's opened in the same position as of today."

He said if Missouri Gas Energy employees had turned off the meter when they arrived about 5:15 p.m. the pilot lights would have been automatically turned off. He believes they should have done that.

"It would be completely against protocol for the gas company to ask a layperson to go back into a structure and search out pilot lights wherever they may be and turn them off," the attorney said.

The explosion occurred at 6:04 p.m.

Missouri Gas Energy has not commented.

But the utility's website offers advice when it comes to gas leaks.

"Do not create any sparks, evacuate the premises, call MGE and do not return or allow others to return to premises," the website states.

Kansas Gas Service says it advises people to evacuate buildings and refrain from making any phone calls until outside a structure.

"This was never discussed during the hour-plus time that the gas company was there before the explosion," Davis said.

After a borderline high reading was recorded about 5:50 p.m., JJ's employees and workers at a nearby medical office were told it was in their best interest to leave. This was just a few minutes before 6 p.m. Witnesses said they weren't ordered to leave immediately, and said they were in the process of gathering up personal belongings and closing up shop when the gas ignited.

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