Sept. 16, 2019: An explosion at the Farmington offices of LEAP, an agency that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, kills Capt. Michael Bell of the Farmington Fire Rescue Department. Six other firefighters and a building maintenance worker who were investigating reports of a propane smell are injured.

The explosion is so powerful it throws a vehicle across a street and can be heard 30 miles away. It also destroys 11 nearby mobile homes.

The LEAP director says casualties could have been much higher if the maintenance worker, Larry Lord, 60, of Jay, hadn’t taken the trouble to evacuate the building when the gas was detected. Lord suffers burns and a leg injury and is taken to a Boston hospital by medical helicopter.

On Sept. 27, investigators say a leak in a propane line caused the explosion.

In January, the Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office concludes that a Manchester company, Techno Metal Posts, accidentally cut the underground propane line while installing four 10-foot-long posts in the building’s parking lot on Sept. 10, causing the leak and the explosion, according to the Department of Public Safety. The company later paid a $1,000 fine as part of a consent agreement with the Public Utilities Commission.

The investigators haven’t determined what ignited the gas.

In a heavily redacted report that the fire marshal’s office released a few months ago, firefighters said they noticed no propane smell outside the building when they arrived, but measuring devices detected increasing levels as they entered the basement. The explosion happened just as a firefighter was moving to an electrical panel to cut off power to the building, according to the firefighters’ accounts.

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com. To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]

 


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