PSC Staff Report Says Gas Company Too Slow in JJ’s Response Before Blast
February 6, 2014

(AP) – Missouri Gas Energy failed to take “prompt and adequate” steps to ensure safety the day of a fatal restaurant explosion in Kansas City, according to a Missouri Public Service Commission staff report released Thursday.

The 120-page report said the utility’s workers waited too long before checking whether gas levels had reached unsafe conditions inside JJ’s restaurant on Feb. 19, 2013. An explosion and fire leveled the building, killing Megan Cramer, 46, a server at JJ’s, injuring more than a dozen other people and damaging nearby buildings.

The PSC staff also filed a complaint against MGE asking the full commission to find the utility violated the agency’s safety rules and to authorize the commission’s general counsel to seek penalties in state court.

“They seemed to lack an appropriate sense of urgency given the situation that they found at the site,” PSC staff counsel Kevin Thompson said Thursday. “What we’re basically saying is they failed to implement their own emergency plan.”

The PSC staff report said about a half-hour elapsed between when MGE’s first responders arrived at the scene and when the utility’s personnel first entered the restaurant.

“MGE personnel did not conduct prompt and adequate leak investigations to determine if additional hazards existed and to determine the extent of the hazards in order to make the area safe and to protect life and property,” the report said.

MGE on Thursday disputed the allegations in the report, which the company said did not include “important facts.” MGE also said it would “vigorously challenge” the PSC staff allegations through legal means.

“Upon learning an MGE gas line was damaged by a cable contractor, MGE promptly responded and followed well-established company and industry procedures,” the emailed statement said. “The moment the MGE responder arrived, his investigation began. He called for additional responders, investigated the source of the leak and developed a plan for containing it.

“MGE responders conducted tests and urged the evacuation of several buildings in the impacted area, including JJ’s,” the statement added. “MGE responders urged JJ’s to evacuate on three separate occasions. While many individuals left, our employees cannot force anyone to evacuate.”

The explosion at JJ’s occurred after a crew for Heartland Midwest, an Olathe, Kan.-based cable company subcontractor, breached a natural gas supply line with an underground borer. Fumes from that leak filled the building and were ignited, possibly by a pilot light, according to a Kansas City Fire Department investigation. A little more than an hour passed between the time the leak was reported and when the restaurant erupted in flames.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed a $161,000 fine against Heartland Midwest for two willful and three serious violations. Heartland has contested the citations.

The PSC staff report also said there was an unexplained discrepancy in underground utility markings in the area. It said two electrical facilities and one natural gas site were there, but the markings only indicated one electrical site and one natural gas site.

“Had markings on the ground indicated to Heartland Midwest personnel another underground electric facility was present, it is probable that Heartland Midwest personnel would have been able to avoid damaging the natural gas main,” the report said.

MGE has 30 days to respond to the PSC staff report

Subcontractor Cited by OSHA in JJ’s Blast Probe
August 16, 2013

(AP) — The federal government said Thursday it is seeking a $161,000 fine against a cable company subcontractor after a fatal explosion leveled a Kansas City restaurant.

The U.S. Department of Labor said in a news release that Olathe, Kan.-based Heartland Midwest was being cited for two willful and three serious violations after a crew breached a natural gas supply line Feb. 19 with a horizontal drilling machine. The blast that came that evening leveled JJ’s restaurant near the Country Club Plaza, a busy outdoor shopping area. One restaurant worker died and 15 other people were injured.

“This explosion was a tragic event that stemmed from errors on behalf of Heartland Midwest,” said Marcia Drumm, acting regional administrator for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Kansas City. “It is heartbreaking that a person was killed, and numerous employees were severely injured as a result of these violations.”

Heartland attorney Brad Russell disputed the allegations and said in a written statement that Missouri Gas Energy, which owned the gas line that was ruptured, and the utility locating service didn’t provide the cable contractor the depth of the gas line or correct number of utility lines in the area.

“Heartland is disappointed that OSHA has decided to issue ill-founded and unsubstantiated allegations that are neither supported by facts or even law under these circumstances,” the statement said.

Among the willful violations, OSHA alleges Heartland failed to provide its employees with a workplace “free of recognized hazards” while boring underground and crossing the paths of existing utilities. The second willful violation alleged the company failed to ensure all crew members were equipped with footwear that protected them from electrocution while boring near underground electric lines.

OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

The serious violations, defined as those with a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm, include claims that Heartland failed to ensure workers were qualified to operate the equipment and instructed to avoid hazards. OSHA said no training or certification records could be produced for the drilling equipment operator. And the agency found that although the drilling equipment manufacturer requires workers to read the machine’s operating manual, the operator wasn’t provided a Spanish version, even though he neither speaks nor reads English.

The release also noted that the company didn’t prevent a worker from smoking after the gas line was breached.

Because of the violations, OSHA placed Heartland in a severe violator program that focuses on “recalcitrant employers that endanger workers.”

JJ’s also faces a proposed $2,000 penalty for having a deficient emergency action plan. But Steve Emerson, an attorney for JJ’s, stressed that JJ’s employees had evacuated all of the patrons safely and were in the process of evacuating themselves when the explosion occurred.

The release also said OSHA initially opened an investigation into Missouri Gas Energy, whose workers responded to the scene before the blast. But OSHA determined that the Missouri Public Service Commission, the state agency that regulates utilities, had jurisdictional authority. The release said the commission’s initial report into what happened is expected to be released in September.

Missouri Gas Energy spokeswoman Vicki Granado said the company continues to “cooperate with all the regulatory agencies that are involved in the investigation.”

Lawsuit Names Many to Blame in JJ’s Explosion
March 22, 2013

Private investigators at the scene of the JJ’s blast recently.

A lawsuit accuses Missouri gas Energy (MGE) with failing to adequately warn the workers in JJ’s restaurant of the deadly threat in the minutes leading up to the February 19 explosion.

One person died in the blast and fire, several were injured. That includes the six employees of the restaurant who filed the suit today.

The suit says the MGE workers who arrived on the scene “failed to inform”, the restaurant employees ‘there was a danger,” according to the lawsuit.

It says that’s despite the detection of “gas in structures at a level that would require evacuation”.

MGE workers arrived at the restaurant at 48th & Bellview at 5:16 that afternoon. The gas leak at been reported by a utility contracting crew at 4;54 pm, 22 minutes earlier.

JJ’s exploded at 6;04 pm.

The suits says, on the contrary, a gas worker on the scene “repeatedly told people not to worry and everything was under control”.

The suit also accuses MGE of failing to follow the normal rules after the report of a gas leak.

The company is also accused of not properly maintaining the gas line in the area or emergency shut off valves that were also in the area.

In the days after the explosion, a MGE executive said his workers on the scene did tell the people in the restaurant they should leave. Two patrons in the restaurant at the time have told KMBC News there was ‘no sense of urgency” in the warnings.

After the lawsuit was filed, a spokesman for MGE says the firm would have no comment.

Another part of the lawsuit says the spray paint markings on the street were inaccurate.

Those temporary markings show utility crews where different lines are buried.

Two companies, Missouri Call One and USIC Locating Services, do much of the underground utility marking in the Kansas City, Missouri region.

The lawsuit says there were ‘erroneous markings” on the street. It also says there was miscommunication between the marking company and a private utility contracting firm, Heartland Midwest.

Heartland Midwest was working for Time Warner Cable in the area that day.

At 4:54 that day, a 9-1-1 called, believed to be from a Heartland Midwest employee reported they had hit a gas line in the area.

Heartland and time Warner are both named as defendants.

Heartland says they were under the impression the gas line was 24 inches beneath the surface of the street. Their drilling register indicated their drill was at 37 inches.

The lawsuit says Time Warner should have known that Heartland Midwest “routinely” started projects without having the proper permits.

Heartland has said they did submit the proper permits to the city of Kansas City, but there was a communication error at the city fax machine that received the application. The city confirms they did receive an application.

KCFD Changes Gas Leak Practices in JJ’s Wake
March 14, 2013

The Kansas City Fire Department will now send a battalion Chief and a fire truck with gas monitoring equipment to reports of gas leaks.
It is one of two changes announced Thursday by the fire department.
on the day of the Feb. 19 JJ’s Restaurant explosion, a KC Fire Dept truck was called to the scene minutes after the leak was reported about 5pm that evening.
The fire truck stayed on the scene until a repair crew from Missouri gas Energy arrived.
According to a Fire Dept. time line of events, the fire truck arrived on the scene of the leak at 4:58 pm. That’s 3 minutes after the 9-1-1 call came in. The truck stayed on the scene until 5:17pm.
A recent Fire Dept. report on the blast said the MGE crew told the firefighters they had the situation under control. At that point the fire truck left.
JJ’s Restaurant exploded at 6:04 pm that day. One person was killed in the blast and several were injured.
The other change announced by the Fire Dept today is that fire crews will stay on the scene until the problem is resolved by the gas company.
That could mean until the gas is curtailed in the problem area and gas readings are down to acceptable levels.

Investigators Swarm Back to Site of JJ’S Explosion
March 14, 2013

Ore than 3 dozen investigators are gathered outside of the scene of the Feb. 19 explosion. Developing.