Cremation explained: a tour of a crematorium

Posted Feb. 28, 2014, at 4:27 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Pine Grove Crematorium and Remembrance Center, which sits beside the city’s Pine Grove Cemetery on outer Hammond Street, looks like a little cottage.

After arriving by hearse, human remains destined for cremation are taken to a door on the far side of the building out of public view that is connected directly to the crematorium. The remains are always under video camera surveillance.

The deceased are from all over the region and are contained in combustible cardboard or wooden boxes that are marked in three separate ways to ensure accurate identification of the individual inside and to comply with air emissions rules. The crematorium worker receiving the remains and the person dropping them off must both sign multiple forms.

When people think of cremation, an image of a casket being rolled over flames comes to mind. With today’s technology, the oven, known as a retort, heats to 1,650 degrees and fans blow the heat around the body, said James Fernald, a fifth generation funeral director who works at Brookings-Smith Funeral Home, which operates the nonprofit crematorium.

“Cremation is not a flame. It’s really a process of evaporation of the tissue under extreme heat,” he said during a recent facility tour. “A lot of people think all the remains turn into ash right away, but that is not true. We do [mechanically] pulverize them into an ash.”

Each cremation takes a few hours and cost varies depending on the type of memorial package, which start at around $1,000.

After each cremation, the ash is cleaned from the machine and placed in an urn selected by the family or a temporary cardboard urn.

Cremations are done daily at 7 a.m., 10 a.m., and 1 p.m. at the city’s second crematorium, which opened in 2007 and is one of a dozen crematories in the state. Bangor’s other crematory is located at Mount Hope Cemetery. Several funeral homes and direct cremation businesses use the facilities.

One copy of the triple set of identification documents is given to the family, one is sent to the state’s Division of Environmental Health’s Subsurface Wastewater Unit, and one is kept on file.

The facility’s remembrance center is able to handle gatherings of 40 and includes a “witnessing room,” with a wall that is covered with urns for sale and a window that looks into the crematorium and its two ovens.

“We had a lot of families who wanted to be present at the cremation,” Fernald said.

Families can watch as the cremation boxes with their loved ones inside are loaded into the tall metal retorts and sealed shut, and if they wish, can leave with the remains several hours later.

 

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