Chief Deputy Jimmy Kilgore, Capt. Bill Kennedy and Capt. Howard Bussie attended the conference and were staying on the same floor where the blast occurred.
“It was outside of the exhibit hall in the conference center,” Kennedy said. “It’s right next to the Delta section and that’s right where we were staying. If it happened in the daytime there would have been a lot of folks hurt. But they shut it down at night, so thankfully there wasn’t a lot of folks in that section.”
Kennedy said there were helicopters flying all night, shining their lights through the gaping hole left in the roof and ceiling.
According to the Associated Press, Capt. Ken Walburn with the Nashville Fire Department said that around 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday an apparent gas leak was ignited inside a mechanical room on the first floor, causing significant damage to an escalator, walls and ceiling.
“At first everybody thought it was a bomb because of where it was located,” Kennedy said. “One of the sheriffs said he was in bed and it knocked him out of the bed, when I talked to him this morning.”
Kennedy, Kilgore and Bussie were at a restaurant eating dinner at the time of the blast. They decided not to eat at the hotel,
“We were going to eat here, but I’m glad we didn’t because we would have been right on top of it,” Kennedy said.
“Everybody had to find a motel to stay in last night. They housed some in the Grand Ole Opry House. At midnight, we went and tried to find a room along with everybody else. There were no rooms to be found close by.”
Kennedy said the staff from the Opryland Resort was outstanding during the evacuation and brought out water, food and snacks and were very organized and friendly.
The cause of the fire was investigated by the state bomb and arson squad, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and any acts of terrorism and suspicious activity were ruled out.
The hotel has a total of 2,881 rooms and has 1 million guests annually. It is rated as the cornerstone of Nashville's tourism industry and bills itself as the largest non-gaming hotel in the continental United States.
It also sits next to the Grand Ole Opry House, the heart of Nashville's country music scene.
The conference resumed around 6 a.m. Wednesday.
“They let us in this morning and they have a big area roped off you can’t get to,” Kennedy said. “They relocated the remainder of the conference to another section.
“One of the employees sprained their ankle, but there were no other injuries.”
Hundreds of sheriffs and their command staff from all over the country are attending the conference, which concludes Friday with a ceremony where Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson will be sworn in as president of the association.
Contact Aziza Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org.