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Hero recalls propane blast

Dennis Schmotzer is recovering from second-degree burns. But the quick-thinking propane truck driver hopes to return home soon.

By JOHN BALZ, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 2, 2002

TAMPA -- Nurses at Tampa General Hospital re-dress Dennis Schmotzer's bandages twice a day. The severe second-degree burns on his forearms, lower legs and back may require skin-grafting surgery.

Schmotzer, the 51-year-old propane delivery driver who was called a hero last week for moving his truck away from two propane tanks after they exploded in Tampa Palms, says he is still in "awesome" pain.

Speaking to reporters for the first time Monday afternoon, he said felt terrible knowing that part of a house had burned down but that the accident was not his fault.

"I heard the noise, I saw the orange, and then I was on the ground," said Schmotzer, who is in fair condition. "I was in fear, I thought, "Oh my goodness, what have I done?"'

Schmotzer, a propane deliveryman for 26 years, worked with Northside Propane in Lutz since 1996. He said the excess flow valve, which is supposed to siphon off extra gas, was not working properly. He couldn't stop the gas flow before it ignited.

Fire officials have said that the leaking gas likely ignited on an electric panel or the spa's water heater.

Dave Ovitt, general manager with Northside Propane, would not comment on why the tanks exploded. He said that filling propane tanks is no more dangerous than putting gas in a car and that the explosion was a "freak accident."

Schmotzer hopes to leave the hospital on Monday. His wife Debbie, 50, said she doesn't want to see him behind the wheel of a propane truck again. "I think I'd be worried about him constantly," she said. "Maybe he could get an inside sales position."

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