First responders remember tragic anniversary of JJ's explosion - KCTV5

First responders remember tragic anniversary of JJ's explosion

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Flowers and cards now line the fence that surrounds what used to be JJ's Restaurant on the Country Club Plaza.

One year ago Wednesday, a subcontractor hit a gas line which caused an excessive amount of gas to seep into the restaurant.

Something sparked an explosion and massive fire, killing one of the restaurant workers. For the firefighters first on the scene, it was something they'll never forget.

"It produced a tremendous amount of heat," said Deputy Chief Jeff Groat, who got to the scene just minutes after the first calls came in.

"The amount of smoke generated from that fire, I thought half the Plaza was on fire," Groat said.

Groat says goal one was to stop the fire from spreading.

"We've all been to the Plaza. The buildings are close together. Exposures and stopping this fire was a major concern," Groat said. "I knew this was going to be an incidence of significance for our city. We had a tremendous amount of work to do. We had multiple patients. We had multiple exposures."

For EMS assistant division chief Paul Paikowski, the scene was chaos. His job was to help those injured.

"I thought we were looking at probably at least 30 to 40 patients, and I was expecting the absolute worst," Paikowski said.

For EMS crews, it was a matter of quick organization.

"We were really trying to get our bearings on, but there was just a tremendous amount of smoke, a lot of fire and a large crowd," Paikowski said.

The explosion was a five-alarm fire, involving more than a hundred firefighters, who battled the blaze for more than six hours.

One bright spot that came out of the tragedy was communication. The police, the fire department and EMS crews were all communicating and working together.

"We broke this up into three channels. One channel was devoted to where we were taking people to what hospital, one channel devoted to firefighter operations. So that's one thing we did that was amazing, and when we look back, we're very proud," Groat said.

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