As of early Monday afternoon, we did not know the name of the firefighter killed in a morning explosion that reduced a Farmington building to rubble. We did not know the names or conditions of the other seven people reportedly injured in the blast, apparently fueled by a propane leak. We did not know the exact circumstances behind this tragic event that literally shook the Farmington community and is reverberating across the state.
Without any of that information, however, there were still some things we knew immediately about the people responding to the Monday morning call in Farmington.
We knew that when firefighters, police officers and other emergency personnel are on the job, their work day can hinge on matters of life and death. We knew that these men and women put their own safety at risk to protect ours. And we knew that the Maine first responder community has seen too many painful losses as of late.
In April, Maine State Police Detective Ben Campbell was struck and killed by a tire careening off a truck on the side of Interstate 95 in Hampden. In March, Berwick Capt. Joel Barnes died in a fire. Somerset County Cpl. Eugene Cole was murdered in April 2018. His killer was sentenced to life in prison last week.
Monday’s explosion in Farmington has added another name to the tragic list of first responders lost in the line of duty. And even when we didn’t know the name of the firefighter who died, we knew something about who he was: We know that he was willing to walk into a dangerous situation when others were being rushed out.
We also know that a family and a community are sure to be reeling after a devastating loss. They need and deserve our support.
“Our hearts go out to all those impacted by this tragedy, especially to the loved ones of the firefighter lost and others injured,” Gov. Janet Mills tweeted Monday morning. “I am grateful for the work of first responders who are at the scene.” She ordered the state’s flags lowered in honor of the victims of the blast.
Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King also offered words of support on Twitter.
“I am praying for the firefighters and their families as well as the civilians who were hurt in today’s explosion,” Collins said. “We can never repay our debt to the brave men and women like these firefighters in Farmington today who put their lives on the line to keep us safe.”
King said that he is “devastated by the news of the serious explosion in Farmington” and that his thoughts are with the first responders, the family of the firefighter who died in the blast, and members of the Franklin County community.
Second District Congressman Jared Golden said in a statement Monday afternoon that he is “saddened by the loss of one of the firefighters who responded to the call this morning” and is praying for those injured.
“I offer my sincere condolences to all who have been harmed in the explosion, to their families, and to the entire community,” Golden said. “My office is available to help the families affected by this tragedy and the larger Farmington community in any way we can.”
The scene in Farmington on Monday was a haunting one. The building that exploded, which housed a nonprofit that serves adults with developmental disabilities, was leveled. Insulation blanketed the ground and fell from the sky, almost like snow. One local official said it looked like “a war zone.”
Late Monday afternoon, the State Fire Marshal’s Office released the names of the explosion victims, including Farmington fire Capt. Michael Bell, a 30-year member of the department who was killed. Five other Farmington firefighters — Michael Bell’s brother fire Chief Terry Bell; father and son, firefighter Theodore Baxter and Capt. Scott Baxter; Capt. Timothy Hardy; and firefighter Joseph Hastings — were seriously injured, along with Larry Lord, a maintenance worker at the facility. Deputy Fire Chief Clyde Ross was also injured.
It may take some time to know exactly what happened. But as we wait for those details, we know immediately and without question that our communities rely upon and are lucky to have brave, dedicated people like the Bells, the Baxters, Hardy, Hastings, Lord and Ross — in and out of uniform — who are willing to run toward danger and help others.