12 questions haunt investigations into JJ's deadly blast
The Kansas City Star
For very good reasons, multiple investigations are under way into last Tuesday’s natural gas blast that killed one person, leveled JJ’s restaurant and injured more than a dozen people.
Questions haunt these probes, with many swirling around the actions of the Kansas City Fire Department and Missouri Gas Energy.
The most obvious concern to Kansas Citians is why the agency charged with protecting public safety - the Fire Department - and a utility that well knows the dangers of natural gas did not order earlier evacuations of JJ’s restaurant and surrounding buildings.
The Fire Department expects to issue its investigatory results next week, but that certainly won’t be the final word.
The ones to pay attention to include those being done by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Missouri Public Service Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The state and federal probes need to provide definitive, written answers to at least these 12 questions. They are put here in roughly chronological order from last Tuesday evening, based on the initial timeline put forward by Fire Chief Paul Berardi.
Did the contractor drilling to install a fiber-optic cable near JJ’s have the proper permit and follow the correct procedures for the method it was using to drill in the area?
Was the area properly marked for where the gas lines were supposed to be?
How long did it take for the contractor or anyone else in the area to call 911 after the natural gas line was struck before 5 p.m.?
What did the Kansas City firefighters do at the scene for the approximately 15 or so minutes they were there, from around shortly after 5 p.m. to being put back in service to go to other calls at 5:17 p.m.?
What did the first MGE employee to arrive at the scene (5:16 p.m.) do to figure out that there supposedly was no immediate danger to the public, as MGE officials have initially indicated happened?
What - exactly - did the MGE employee say to firefighters at this point?
Why did the firefighters “defer” to MGE (as Mayor Sly James said Wednesday) in this potentially dangerous situation, causing them to leave just a minute or two after the first MGE employee arrived on the scene?
(UPDATED SUNDAY : For much more information on this issue - and Question No. 8 - read The Star’s Sunday story on these matters.)
Did the Fire Department or MGE fail to follow any established local or national protocols for evacuations of buildings when large natural gas leaks occur in populated areas?
What did the second MGE employee to arrive on the scene (5:31 p.m.) do to decide whether there was an immediate problem in the area, including any tests on how much natural gas was in the air?
When did MGE employees decide to tell people in JJ’s to leave the restaurant?
How long did it take JJ’s employees and customers to leave the restaurant, and was there the appropriate sense of urgency based on what they had been told?
What was the source that ignited the natural gas in the air (including the potential it was a flame in the restaurant that could have been turned off earlier.)
The investigations into the deadly blast need to be thorough.
That means talking to a wide number of people - firefighters, MGE employees, JJ’s workers, the contractor’s employees and any potential eyewitnesses.
The public needs to know what happened, what went wrong and how these kinds of situations can be better handled in the future.