Capt. Michael Bell died Monday in an explosion after responding to a reported gas leak at the LEAP building in Farmington. Photo courtesy town of Farmington

FARMINGTON — Fire Rescue Capt. Michael Bell was described Friday as a leader, a teacher of younger generations of firefighters, a dedicated community member and a family-driven man.

Bell, 68, was killed Monday in an explosion at a LEAP Inc. building on Farmington Falls Road (U.S. Route 2) after he and other firefighters responded to a call about a smell of propane.

He followed his father, the late Capt. John “Jack” Bell and a younger brother, Fire Rescue Chief Terry Bell, 62, into the fire service. Their father died at age 80 in 2009, but throughout his nearly 50 years in the department had always made sure firefighters were safe and had equipment they needed. He guided firefighters and mentored them.

Both Capt. Bell and Chief Bell are known to have done the same. All three Bells believed in putting family first, community involvement and fire service, friends said.

Chief Bell along with six other firefighters and a LEAP maintenance supervisor were seriously injured in the explosion.

Capt. Bell was a retired plumber and worked in the family plumbing business, his brother Ron Bell, also a plumber, said. The two worked to open and close camps for people. Chief Bell was also involved in the family business prior to becoming Farmington’s first full-time chief in 2000.

Both Bells started as rookies and worked their way up through the ranks. Capt. Bell served on the department for 30 years. Chief Bell is in his 42nd year.

Maine State Police Lt. Jason Madore, commander of Troop C, called Capt. Bell “one of Maine’s greatest heroes” on Tuesday during a news conference regarding the explosion.

“It is hard to come up with something worthy of honoring such a dedicated, kindhearted, community and family-driven individual,” Jay Fire Rescue Chief Mike Booker wrote in an email about Capt. Bell. “In the fire service, a loss such as this is more than the loss of a person. It is the loss of a lifetime of knowledge and service. He was one of the most respectful officers I’ve ever been privileged to work with on a scene or in the firehouse. He did not speak a lot, but when he did, he had my utmost attention. He is already missed terribly.”

Retired Rangeley Fire Rescue Chief Tim Pellerin wrote that “Mike was a dedicated member who was always the first in, led by example, loved and cared deeply about the job, but I think the most important piece that I knew of Mike was that he always believed in teaching what he knew to the younger guys! Pass on what you know so they too could learn to be safe! A true brother, always there beside you in the worst conditions, and would never leave a member’s side, no matter how hot or smoky it was! A true brother firefighter!”

“Unfortunately, no matter how much we train, how safe we operate, we forget how dangerous of a job firefighting can be,” Pellerin wrote. “For that reason and many others such as dedication and professionalism, that is why we are the brotherhood! In times like this, we come to realize that even though we can’t bring them back, we certainly won’t say our goodbyes without paying our true heartfelt respect for a job well done, and then step up and take care of the families from the same love and respect we offered him!”

Capt. Bell and his wife, Diana, raised three daughters and have several grandchildren.

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