February 19, 2020
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Farmington blast victim’s daughter says nonprofit’s propane line was severed before blast

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
A firefighter walks through the scene of an explosion in Farmington in this Sept. 16, 2019, file photo.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The daughter of the Farmington fire captain who died in a September explosion leveling a nonprofit and injuring seven others told a legislative committee on Tuesday the blast was caused by a bollard augured into place that severed a propane line.

That explanation from Danielle Bell Flannery of Farmington, who is one of Capt. Michael Bell’s three daughters, came ahead of the official release of findings from an investigation by Maine fire marshal’s office. It was confirmed by a lawmaker who sits on the board of LEAP Inc.

The nonprofit’s newly renovated headquarters on Route 2 was destroyed in the blast, which could be heard from more than 30 miles away, leveled nearby mobile homes and scattered debris for more than a mile. Bell was killed and LEAP’s maintenance supervisor, Larry Lord, who has been hailed a hero for evacuating the building, is still hospitalized in Boston.

Flannery told the Legislature’s energy committee that the blast “was preventable and never should have happened” and came after a bollard was augured into place underneath the building. It sliced open an underground propane line, she said. Her testimony was first reported by the Sun Journal.

“While there could have been so many other tragedies that day, the loss of my dad was enough,” Flannery said in testimony. “Losing him to such a preventable death is enough.”

The fire marshal’s office confirmed in September that 400 gallons of propane leaked over the course of the preceding weekend after a tank was filled. The blast came on a Monday. Rep. Scott Landry, D-Farmington, a town selectman who sits on LEAP’s board, confirmed Flannery’s account on Wednesday and said “that was my understanding” all along.

Stephen McCausland, a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said Wednesday evening he had no reaction to the testimony. He said he was scheduled to meet with fire marshals on Thursday to discuss the investigation’s findings and that he did not know when they will be released.

Flannery was in Augusta to testify in favor of a bill sponsored by Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, that would add propane systems with underground pipes to the state’s so-called “Dig Safe” laws. The measure is backed by Maine Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas, but opposed by propane industry officials, with a regional trade group calling it “premature.”

Bell’s family hired an attorney in November to investigate the blast. LEAP and three other companies are being investigated by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, while the Farmington department is being investigated by the Maine Department of Labor. Findings from those probes are expected by March.


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