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Westar Closes Largest Plant Following Deaths Of Two Employees

Two Westar Energy employees have died from injuries received while working at the company’s largest power plant, which remained closed Monday.

Operations supervisors Craig Burchett and Jesse Henson were burned when a piece of equipment with high-pressure steam broke about 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Westar officials said. The two were airlifted from Jeffrey Energy Center to the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, where they died Sunday evening.

“Our Westar employees work very closely together and form strong bonds,” John Bridson, Westar’s senior vice president of generation, said in a statement. “All of us who worked with Craig and Jesse are grieving and thinking of their families as we cope with the loss.”

Burchett was from Overbrook; Henson from Manhattan.

Westar spokeswoman Gina Penzig says the company is still trying to determine exactly what happened.

“We have an internal investigation team that’s being led by our safety department, working as well with an external engineering firm, and then with plant employees, to better understand what caused this incident,” she said.

Jeffrey, which supplies about 25 percent of Westar’s energy, will remain closed until company officials think it can be operated safely again. The plant is about 30 miles northwest of Topeka.

Westar’s last on-the-job fatality occurred in 2002, when an employee was burned while working on an underground power delivery system.

Brian Grimmett, based at KMUW in Wichita, is a reporter focusing on the environment and energy for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

Copyright 2020 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To see more, visit .

I seek to find and tell interesting stories about how our environment shapes and impacts us. Climate change is a growing threat to all Kansans, both urban and rural, and I want to inform people about what they can expect, how it will change their daily lives and the ways in which people, corporations and governments are working to adapt. I also seek to hold utility companies accountable for their policy and ratemaking decisions. Email me at grimmett@kmuw.org.
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