Acting Fire Rescue Chief Tim Hardy, left, and Deputy Chief S. Clyde Ross stand in front of Tower 3 at the Farmington Fire Station. The truck was damaged in the Sept. 16 explosion and has been repaired and returned to the station recently. Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal

FARMINGTON — The Fire Rescue Department and the community have forever changed since the Sept. 16 propane explosion that killed Capt. Michael Bell and injured six firefighters and a maintenance supervisor at the LEAP Inc. building on Farmington Falls Road.

Adjusting to the changes, the department is proactively moving forward with much support from the community.

More than $400,000 has been donated to assist those affected by the explosion, including people who lost their homes, injured firefighters, the family of Capt. Bell, and LEAP Inc. employees.

Deputy Chief S. Clyde Ross, Capt. Tim “TD” Hardy and Joseph Hastings, all of whom were injured in the explosion at the LEAP building that day, are back on the job.

Bell’s brother, Chief Terry Bell, as well as Capt. Scott Baxter and his father, firefighter Ted Baxter, are still recovering. LEAP maintenance supervisor Larry Lord of Jay was listed in serious condition last week at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“We are all sad but we all have a job to do, our personal experiences help us through it,” Ross said. “We are all facing different stages in the process. There is no set healing rate or time. We all received different injuries.”

Tower 3 recently returned to the firehouse after damages caused by the explosion were repaired. The truck, which was onsite, had damage to the cab and body, acting Chief Hardy said. It cost about $25,000 for the repairs, not including testing or any associated maintenance or services. Engine 2 had to be tested because it was at the explosion as well, he said.

People have a more heightened awareness about the smell of propane and are reporting it to dispatchers. Firefighters have investigated several reports, with some of them confirmed. At least two confirmed reports were caused by a faulty check valve and a leak found around a  propane gauge.

“That speaks well for society to be more aware,” Ross said. “Those people are sincere in what they are saying. You have to be thankful for their awareness.”

More than 80 fire departments and individual firefighters stepped in to help Farmington continue to provide services to the community for more than a month after the disaster, with Farmington firefighters always in the mix.

“We’ve had to make some changes in staff. We had to make some changes in the schedule and how we scheduled our staffing,” Hardy said.

They implemented a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. per diem shift. “That’s to ensure that we do have coverage during those hours,” he said.

They are filling a lot of shifts with Farmington firefighters and some from outside the department, he said.

Also visiting the station occasionally are Chief Bell and firefighter Baxter, while well-wishers have been making calls on Bell and Capt. Baxter at their homes.

Even though the injured firefighters are not able to participate in the department’s activities, Ross said the visits offer additional healing for everyone.

Meanwhile, he noted, other firefighters have been taking on more responsibility and are making more decisions within the department. “You see the responsibility acceptance, not that it didn’t happen before,” Ross said.

In the wake of the tragedy, community support has been tremendous, firefighters said. Cards and messages of support continue to cross Hardy’s desk daily — some from people they know, others from unfamiliar supporters.

One message let firefighters know “angels are watching over” them. Another was a donation from a child, unsigned. It is very heartening, Ross said, how many people from across the country have taken their time to send a note or card, thanking the Farmington firefighters for what they do.

“People have been gracious in what they have done. It has just taken me into a different thought process. It’s humbling for what you do. You don’t know how you’ve touched these people and in what way,” Ross said.

Thirty-three people were also displaced when they lost their homes near the explosion site. And more than a dozen LEAP employees were significantly affected as well as two businesses.

“Our thoughts are with the people who lost their homes,” Hardy said. “This didn’t just change the lives of firefighters, but the community as a whole.”

The displaced families were said to have all found homes.

In November, the LEAP Explosion Fund had reached nearly $180,000. The committee overseeing the fund has met four times since the explosion and allocated $136,119.26 to date. Those funds have helped with a variety of needs for the displaced families, including first and last month’s rent and security deposits, replacement of household items, transportation costs and infrastructure repair, according to Executive Director Lisa Park Laflin of the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area.

There have been no new developments in the investigation by the Maine Fire Marshal’s Office as of the week of Dec. 16, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the state’s Department of Public Safety. State and federal investigators determined there was a gas leak in the line that ran from the propane tank behind the LEAP building, under the parking lot and into the basement of the building. The investigation continues into what caused the gas to ignite.


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