November 12, 2019
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911 calls pointed to gravity of Farmington explosion

Russ Dillingham | Sun Journal via AP
Russ Dillingham | Sun Journal via AP
An aerial view of the devastation after an explosion at the Life Enrichment Advancing People (LEAP) building, in Farmington, Maine killed one firefighter and injured multiple other people, on Monday morning September 16, 2019.

PORTLAND, Maine — The first caller to 911 thought a former Coca-Cola plant had blown up. Seconds later, a caller said it might have been a transformer explosion. Other callers reported that a blast had shaken their homes.

Emergency dispatchers didn’t know what had happened in Farmington, Maine, but they quickly understood it was serious from the breathless calls.

The 911 transcripts, obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Access law, indicate the sister of a deputy fire chief called at one point to say he’d been injured — and was awaiting help.

Firefighters were already on scene investigating a gas leak at the LEAP Inc. building when an explosion leveled the building on Sept. 16, killing a Farmington firefighter and injuring eight other people.

About two dozen calls were made within minutes to a regional communications center in Farmington and another communications center in Augusta from people who were startled by a blast that shook their homes and knocked out power.

The transcripts revealed a call from a woman who identified herself as the sister of a deputy chief, Clyde Ross, who was among the injured.

“He said there was just a hell of an explosion and I’m hurt. And I said is somebody helping you? He said nobody has found me yet or nobody’s got me yet,” she said about 18 minutes after the first 911 call.

“Jesus, do something. Please,” she said.

While the line was open, the dispatcher spoke to the incident command and said, “They have eyes on him right now.”

An investigation concluded the entirety of a 400-gallon propane tank had emptied because of a damaged fuel line with much of the gas settling in the building’s basement before the explosion on Monday, Sept. 16.

The building’s maintenance supervisor evacuated the building after smelling propane and seeing that the tank was empty.

The explosion happened after the supervisor, now accompanied by firefighters, returned to the building to investigate.

The building supervisor, Larry Lord, remained in critical condition Tuesday at Massachusetts General Hospital, a spokeswoman said. Two other firefighters remained hospitalized at Maine Medical Center.

The blast killed Fire Capt. Michael Bell and injured others, including his brother, Fire Chief Terry Bell, and along with Ross and others.

An investigation into the explosion is continuing. Investigators don’t yet know what actually sparked the explosion or what caused the fuel line to be damaged in the first place, officials said.

 



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