BREMERTON — The gas explosion that leveled part of the Bremerton Motel 6 at 8:30 p.m. Aug. 19, 2015 threw Larry Jennings four feet into the air and 10 feet back and left him near death from severe injuries and burns.
But the veteran Cascade Natural Gas service worker survived.
Jennings credits his survival that evening to three things: a gas meter, a quick-thinking fire marshal and the power of prayer.
“The Lord brought me through and the power of prayer was the sole reason I survived,” Jennings said. He and his wife, Lynette, are members of Sylvan Way Baptist Church.
The missing day
Asked about the events of that day, Jennings recalled, “It was a nice August evening.”
That’s all he remembers.
At that time, he was 59 and had worked for Cascade Natural Gas, or CNG, for 33 years. He had repaired hundreds of similar outside gas leaks. An outdoor leak is a relatively safe, routine operation, Jennings said. “Natural gas is lighter than air, it disperses rapidly outside and it’s non-toxic.”
What he didn’t know that day — what no one knew — was that the gas line was also broken inside. Trapped in the motel’s mechanical room, the gas had built up until it had become a bomb.
Jennings had just put a temporary shut-off valve on the outside pipe when the pent-up natural gas inside the building exploded. The explosion was so powerful that one person told Q13 Fox News that she heard it clear over in Poulsbo.
Big blast. One end of the motel completely destroyed. Jennings at ground zero.
That’s when he thinks the large commercial gas meter saved him.
“The gas meter traveled with me. It was a commercial-size gas meter and I guess it took the brunt of the explosion,” he says. Ultimately, the blast threw him 10 feet into a grassy bank.
“If he would have fallen two feet to one side, he would have hit a concrete bulkhead,” his daughter, Brannen Marie Jennings, told Q13 Fox News.
Still, the explosion did life-threatening damage. It fractured his neck and spine, gave him a severe concussion, burst his left eardrum, knocked out teeth, broke his nose, collar bone and several ribs, blew shrapnel and debris down his throat and into his lungs, and left him with third-degree burns on his face and upper body.
“My wife saw me shortly after it happened,” Jennings said. “She tells me the explosion burned off all my hair and eyebrows.”
“His ears were black,” Lynette added.
That’s when the fire marshal saved his life, Jennings said.
“The fire marshal at the time was Al Duke. He was at the scene and he saved my life. His immediate decision to expedite an airlift [to Harborview Medical Center] saved my life.”
Jennings was admitted into the intensive-care unit in critical condition, according to the Aug. 18, 2015 edition of The Seattle Times.
For weeks after that, it was touch and go. Jennings didn’t come out of his delirium until Aug. 25. On Aug. 29, Brannen reported on social media, “Dad has had some setbacks the past couple days. He is having trouble keeping his oxygen levels up and has had a temp of 103. The doctors have been running a lot of tests — X-rays, CT scans, etc. So far they have found a blood clot in his right lung, and the bottom lobes of both lungs are collapsed. He is being treated for pneumonia also. Please pray for total healing of his lungs.”
Which brings us to the power of prayer, the third thing Jennings credits with his survival.
Media reports right after the explosion identified Jennings only as a CNG employee. On Aug. 18, the family elected to release his name “in hope of drawing on the power of prayer for his recovery,” according to The Seattle Times.
Immediately after the explosion, his daughter had organized a prayer line and provided regular online updates on her father’s progress. “Dad started talking today. He came out of the delirium saying, ‘Oh my goodness,’ ‘Thank you Jesus’ and ‘Praise God’ repeatedly. Along with ‘Okay, let’s go get a meal’ and ‘Get me out of here’,” she wrote in one of her messages. “We are crying tears of joy and gratefulness. Thank you again for the consistent prayer and love.”
Today, with the exception of his hands, the scarring is almost all gone. Jennings is fully mobile and he and Lynette have put 11,000 miles on the motor home they bought last August. But he is still recovering from the effects of the explosion — and some problems will never heal. He is permanently deaf in his left ear and wears hearing aids. There is still dental work to be done. His damaged throat and lungs continue to bother him. “I still cough a lot,” he said. “The worst of the worst” is his impaired short-term memory, a result of the traumatic brain injury he suffered.
Throughout the long recovery process, his employer, CNG, has been “right here for us,” Jennings said. But he doubts he will ever be able to return to work for them.
Washington State Labor and Industries (www.lni.wa.gov) insures CNG employees, and that agency is in the final stages of officially rating all of his losses. When all is said and done, Jennings expects L&I will decide he is fully disabled due to “catastrophic injury.” This would qualify him for benefits amounting to one-half of his old salary. That, along with his as-yet-untapped CNG pension, as well as Social Security in a few years, will hopefully be enough to meet the family’s future needs.
However, their most immediate concern is health care. In November, he is at risk of losing his health care insurance which, up until now, has been provided through CNG.
“The folks at CNG have been really good to me,” Jennings said. “It was unbelievable the way they took care of me … I am hoping they will be able to find a way to carry me through until [I am eligible for] Medicare.”