City worker has burns over 20 percent of his body

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Updated: 8/30/2013 11:20 pm Published: 8/30/2013 11:07 pm

The City of Tulsa worker injured in a gas line fire on Thursday is out of surgery on Friday and is expected to fully recover.

On Thursday morning, Robert Bower, 42, and his crew were repairing a water line when a worker in a backhoe hit a reported unmarked gas line causing the line to ignite and burn 20 percent of Bower's body.

"The hat was burned to his head, his goggles were melted on and his shirt was burned," said Bower’s sister, Kay Serna.

Serna spoke exclusively to FOX23 News and said she is thankful for the men who saved her brother's life.

She said he had skin grafts on Friday and suffered burns to his arms, hands, back, stomach and head.

"Everyone thought he was dead. Flames were shooting and the gas was going," said Serna.

When she saw the flames shoot from the seven-foot hole where her brother was trapped she thought her brother was dead.

"There is a will there and he was just saying, ‘I’m so glad it wasn't worse, I am so thankful to be here and you wouldn't believe what goes through your mind, I thought I was dead,’” said Serna.

An investigation is underway but the president for the city's union AFSCME released a statement Thursday night saying the gas line that was hit was not marked. The city hires outside contractors to mark the lines.

"He sure didn't deserve this and this was a freak accident," said Serna. "He said, 'I thought I was dead, I didn't know what was going on, I didn't know what happened. There were flames everywhere,'" said Serna.

His crew helped pull Bower from the flames where he was trapped.

"He kept saying, ‘They saved me, they saved my life, I am so thankful,'" said Serna.

Bower has been with the city since 2004 and is a Utility Service Leader for the Water and Sewer Department.

He and his wife adopted who children who have special needs.

He also had an interview with the city for a new position that didn't require manual labor on Friday.

"What luck," said Serna. "He said, ‘Well, it looks like I’m going to miss my interview.”

Bower may have been injured but his sense of humor is still intact, Serna said.

"Real witty and funny, he has a good sense of humor, this is a testament," said Serna.

She says Bower may have to have more skin grafts but is expected to be released from the hospital in two weeks. His recovery may take up to a full year.

AFSCME set up a fund at the Bank Oklahoma for Bower.

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