Blast survivor: ‘I was getting thrown through the building’

Jim Fritz in his hospital bed in Grand Rapids. (Dec. 4, 2015)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Even Jim Fritz can’t explain how he survived the explosion that flattened his storage unit around him.

The blast in the storage barn next door leveled four units in all at the facility near Hamilton, damaged homes hundreds of feet away and was heard more than 10 miles away.

An explosion at a storage facility near Saugatuck. (Dec. 3, 2015)
An explosion at a storage facility near Saugatuck. (Dec. 3, 2015)

“It just happened. There was no warning,” the Zeeland man told 24 Hour News 8 on Friday. “It seemed like everything went black for a couple of seconds. It was really loud, incredible pain in my chest and in my back.

“I heard a bang, but I kind of went into shock. I was getting thrown through the building and through the walls.”

Fritz had been working on a computer in his storage unit, with his 11-year-old American Fox Hound, Patrick, at his feet.

“It seemed like everything was on fire,” he said. “There was like a big ball of flames that lasted just a few seconds. Then, I realized nothing was around me that was around me just seconds ago, and the fires were going out.”

Police said they believe a propane leak caused the blast in a storage unit just a few feet away where medical marijuana was being legally grown. Fritz said he used his unit as a garage, a place to tinker.

“It smelled like propane after the fact,” he said. “It smelled like  propane for quite a few minutes, that eggy smell.”

Fritz cleared the wood and other debris from him, then heard his dog whining. From there, he had one mission: To dig Patrick free.

He said police got there quickly and had to tell him to sit down, but not until he got to his dog, which didn’t survive the blast. “He was a good dog,” he said.

Fritz is covered with cuts, bruises and burns. The blast also lacerated his liver and spleen and broke a bone in his shoulder. He was moved from Holland Hospital to Specturm Butterworth in Grand Rapids.

“I just got done digging glass and stuff out of my head,” he said.

He said he doesn’t know how he survived. “I have no idea, other than that Fritzes are really, really tough; we’re quite bull-headed.”

“After seeing the pictures now, the building is gone, where I was is certainly gone. I can’t explain it. I can’t explain it.”

Fritz said doctors at Butterworth Hospital have told him he could be released as soon as Saturday. He said police recovered his dog’s body so he can hold a burial service.

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