Explosion survivors want other homeowners to take action

This is the second part of a two-part series. In Part One, Joe and Debbie Henrix describe near-death experiences and recovery from the April blast. Click here for this part of our exclusive interview.

Niagara, Wes. (and bai) – “By the grace of God.” This is how Joe and Debbie Henrix say they survived the explosion of their motorhome in Niagara Town last April.

Now they’re sharing their remarkable story of survival – with a purpose, a call to action for homeowners everywhere to protect themselves with one simple device.

When you look at what’s left of their trailer home, it’s hard to imagine anyone could have survived the force of the explosion.

“The best way I can describe it is just a lot of energy,” Joe says. “There is just so much power, strength and fire.”

“I kind of remember a whirlwind around me, like a hurricane or something,” Debbie describes.

But Joe and Debbie Henrix survived. “God’s grace is the only explanation we can come up with,” Debbie says.

Now they want to share a near-death experience in hopes of saving lives by drawing attention to the accident that could have killed them.

“What I remember was when it was kind of cold. Spring wasn’t at full speed yet, and when we woke up it was cold in the house,” Joe recalls.

So Joe did what a lot of people in the North do when the propane furnace isn’t working. He checked the pilot light.

“The pilot’s light must have gone out, and I didn’t think much about it.”

So lit it.

The mobile home exploded.

“I saw the flames and inside, the pain was hitting instantly. There was like an instant sting, you know to stand back up, and then I kind of felt like I was sailing, and I felt like I landed on a slide that was probably a wall, and it kind of flipped and I landed on that and I slipped a little bit And I was outside in the yard,” Joe recalls.

“Even though there’s no ceiling or walls left, I don’t really remember computing being in my head,” Debbie says. “It was just, I didn’t know what had happened. And his voice was reassuring because you know he’s okay, and we’re going out together.”

“Obviously, I think, we have unfinished business here,” Joe says.

And this work now begins by talking about multiple gas detectors.

“This will detect natural propane and any other explosive gas and could save someone’s life,” Debbie explains. “So I just encourage people to put this in their homes, in the house of their trailers.”

Debbie and Joe think this device would have prevented the explosion at all.

“We’ll probably never know what really happened, but there was a malfunction of some sort and the valve just broke, and one of the fixtures came loose, but the gas, the gas didn’t break,” Joe says.

Explosive gas alarms can be found at hardware and home goods stores or online for $40, $50, or $80. They are similar to carbon monoxide detectors – often including carbon dioxide detection along with alarms for propane and methane/natural gas. There are plug-in, wired, and portable versions.

Joe says the device would have detected the gas before it reached a dangerous level, even before there was a strong odor — an odor they couldn’t smell due to a COVID infection months ago.

“My smell has been compromised for months, months ago, and I just, I can’t, I can’t smell anything, and you know, we’ve probably been sleeping in it for several hours and we’ve probably been insensitive to smell,” says Joe.

Their message is not one of fear but one of readiness.

“Until I got a call from an old friend of mine,” Joe tells us. He said: I thought of you a few days ago because the water was cold and I went to light the heater. And I said, “Please tell me you didn’t just light up.” And they said, ‘If you don’t buy a detector, I’ll buy you one.’ ‘

So far the Henrichs take theirs on every trip, including a recent trip to Niagara City to see their now-empty property.

“A small part of me felt like we were going to get to the top of the hill and everything would still be there, even though I kind of know it wouldn’t be there,” says Joe.

It was surreal. It was very sad. There were definitely some emotional moments,” Debbie adds.

“When he got back in the car from seeing the location, he said, ‘You know, this is where I almost killed you,'” she said, ‘and I said, ‘This is where God saved us.’ “So it’s all about the way you look at it, you know, and it looks like, you really have to turn it around and just be grateful.”

Grateful to the first responders who saved their lives and the community they hope to be a part of permanently one day as they build their new home where their old one used to be.

“I couldn’t think of anything I’d want more than to be part of a loving community where you feel like everyone is your friend. Everyone can be family,” Debbie says.

“I just want to make sure everyone knows they’ve touched us and we appreciate it,” adds Joe.

Henrichses thanks the community for all the support they have received

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