The man credited with saving lives before last year’s deadly explosion in Farmington has sued two companies over their alleged role in the blast.
Attorneys Steven D. Silin, Daniel G. Kagan and Michael T. Bigos of the Lewiston firm Berman and Simmons, who represent Larry and Sandra Lord of Jay, on Monday filed the lawsuit against C.N. Brown Co. and Techno Metal Post of Maine in Franklin County Superior Court.
The lawsuit alleges that the companies acted negligently in the days leading up to the Farmington blast, causing severe injury to Larry Lord and several firefighters and killing another.
Both companies have faced sanctions after investigations by state and federal authorities.
On Sept. 13, 2019, Lord, the maintenance supervisor at the nonprofit LEAP Inc., which serves adults with developmental disabilities, arrived at work on Farmington Falls Road to find there was no hot water in the building and that its propane tank was empty. Lord called C.N. Brown, which had installed the propane tank and gas line that spring, to report the empty tank, and the company sent a technician to refill the 400-gallon tank, according to the lawsuit.
That technician did not perform a pressure leak test as required under state law, failing to discover that the gas line running from the tank to the building had been severed three days earlier when Techno Metal Post installed bollards to protect LEAP’s air conditioning units, according to the complaint.
Over the next three days, gas leaked from the line into the LEAP building and reached an “explosive level.” The leak wasn’t discovered until Lord arrived at work on the morning of Sept. 16, 2019, and smelled propane upon entering the building.
Lord immediately evacuated the building and called the Farmington Fire Department. When firefighters arrived at the scene, Lord accompanied them inside the building as the gas caused a massive explosion that could be heard from as far away as Livermore, which is more than 30 miles southwest.
The blast killed Capt. Michael 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 Chief Terry Bell; Deputy Chief Clyde Ross; Capt. Timothy Hardy; Capt. Scott Baxter; his father, Theodore Baxter; and Joseph Hastings.
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 85 percent of his body and other injuries in the blast, the complaint said. He 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.
He was the only LEAP employee injured in the explosion.
“Larry Lord and his devoted wife Sandy continue to fight daily against the horrible effects of the injuries he received in this explosion,” their attorney Silin of Berman and Simmons said in a Tuesday morning statement. “Their greatest wish is that, someday, Larry will be able to return to a fulfilling, healthy life. We brought this lawsuit to help make that possible for him and his family.”
C.N. Brown technician George Barker, who refilled LEAP’s propane tank on Sept. 13, 2019, was fined $1,300 and had his license suspended for 15 days for failing to perform the leak check as required by state law, according to a Maine Fuel Board consent agreement filed earlier this year.
A subsequent Maine fire marshal’s office investigation found the gas leak was caused by the posts Techno Metal Post installed to protect LEAP’s air conditioning units. Michael Brochu, owner and president of Techno Metal Post of Maine, agreed earlier this year to pay the state a $1,000 fine in connection with the blast. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the company $4,048.
OSHA also fined LEAP $12,145 for one violation of “general safety and health provisions.” The town of Farmington also faces $22,000 in fines from the Maine Department of Labor for failing to ensure firefighters were properly trained and had necessary equipment to investigate the propane leak.
The Lords’ lawsuit asks that a judge impose damages on C.N. Brown and Techno Metal Post to compensate for Larry Lord’s physical and emotional injuries, loss of earnings and medical expenses.
Attempts to reach C.N. Brown and Techno Metal Post for comment weren’t immediately successful.