Posted: Oct 17, 2005 4:00 pm
Wharton, others at Wendy's flee fire
Smoke 'alarms' didn't signal employees to act
By Chris Conley
October 17, 2005
When Mayor A C Wharton complained Sunday afternoon that the smoke inside the Wendy's restaurant on Union and Avalon had become obnoxious, employees were polite -- they just wouldn't do anything about it.
A smoldering grill fire, the smoke's source, eventually flared up and engulfed the kitchen. The restaurant is closed for now.
There with his wife Ruby and 10 cub scouts and boy scouts, Wharton complained about the smoke when he placed his order, and later asked management to vent the place.
After 45 minutes, three complaints to employees, and two calls to the corporate offices in Georgia, employees announced the kitchen grill was on fire and told the many customers to leave.
The air inside the restaurant had turned gray.
"I was trying to be polite, but I was getting frustrated," Wharton said Sunday afternoon in a still-scratchy voice. "People were coughing ... it could have been tragic if people had panicked."
Manager Ann Walker said at first she thought the meat grill was just unusually smoky, and cut it off. But instead of subsiding, the smoke increased. Then she realized the grease was on fire.
Firefighters had no trouble dousing the flame once they were notified, Battalion Chief Dale Lock said. They cut a hole in the roof to vent the building, but the damage was extensive once the fire was out.
An automatic alarm to summon the fire department didn't work, Lock said.
Wharton said he and his wife had taken the scouts on a tour of the mayor's office and the Shelby County administration building, and then to Wendy's for a treat.
Wharton said everyone -- the restaurant employees and the call-takers at corporate -- were as polite as could be.
"I just couldn't get them to do anything," he said.