A drive-by memorial on Wednesday will mark a year since a gas explosion rocked Farmington, killing a firefighter and injuring several others.
The memorial, scheduled to start at 10 a.m., will give people an opportunity to “honor and recognize” the sacrifice Capt. Michael Bell and other Farmington firefighters made on Sept. 16, 2019, when an explosion leveled a two-story building, South Portland fire Capt. Robb Couture told the Lewiston Sun Journal.
The South Portland Fire Department is helping arrange the memorial. Given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, people who attend the event are asked to remain in their vehicles as they pass the memorial that includes a wreath, firefighting equipment and banners, according to the newspaper.
It was just after 8 a.m. on Sept. 16, 2019, when an explosion leveled the building that housed the central offices for the nonprofit LEAP Inc., which serves adults with developmental disabilities, at 313 Farmington Falls Road. The powerful explosion could be heard from as far away as Livermore, which is more than 30 miles southwest.
The blast killed Bell, 68, a 30-year veteran of the department and brother of the department’s chief. Six other firefighters were injured in the blast, including Fire Chief Terry Bell; Deputy Fire Chief Clyde Ross; Capt. Timothy Hardy; Capt. Scott Baxter; his father, Theodore Baxter; and Joseph Hastings. The building’s maintenance manager, Larry Lord of Jay, was also injured in the explosion.
The firefighters had been called to LEAP’s offices for a propane leak.
Ross was treated and released from a Farmington hospital on Sept. 16. Hastings was released on Sept. 18, Hardy was released on Sept. 19, Theodore Baxter was released on Sept. 23, Terry Bell was released on Oct. 8 and Scott Baxter was released Oct. 13, all of whom were treated at Maine Medical Center in Portland.
Lord suffered severe burns on over half his body, multiple traumas, broken bones and critical injuries in the blast. He was the only LEAP employee injured in the blast. Lord spent five months recovering at a Boston hospital before he was transferred to a rehabilitation center in late February. He was finally welcomed home in April, nearly seven months after the blast.
Lord was lauded as a hero for saving the lives of LEAP employees when he alerted people to the smell of gas prior to the explosion and helped evacuate them.
His employer was fined more than $12,000 for safety violations connected to the explosion. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration found LEAP and Techno Metal Post of Manchester failed to ensure the bollards surrounding an air conditioning unit were properly installed, which led to a bollard’s auger piercing the propane gas line under LEAP’s parking lot. That Manchester company paid a $1,000 fine.
An initial report from the state’s Department of Labor found the town of Farmington was also at fault by not following training and equipment standards for its firefighters.
Two lawyers representing Lord, Daniel Kagan and Steven Silin, said in June that they were working to prove “in a detailed way” how the actions of Techno Metal Post and C.N. Brown Energy contributed to Lord’s injuries in preparation of filing a lawsuit.