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. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal via AP) Credit: Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal via AP

A deadly propane explosion in Farmington two years ago that killed a firefighter and injured several others is the basis for a new law that takes effect Saturday aimed at preventing future explosions from propane and natural gas leaks.

Starting Jan. 1, multi-unit residential buildings as well as dorms, hotels, children’s group residences and businesses with appliances fueled by propane, natural gas or any kind of liquefied petroleum gas will require fuel gas detectors.

The detectors, which are different from carbon monoxide detectors, will be required in every room with such an appliance, according to the state fire marshal’s office. They can be battery-powered, plugged into electrical outlets or hard-wired.

The law grew out of the Sept. 16, 2019, explosion that leveled the two-story building that housed the offices of LEAP Inc., which serves adults with developmental disabilities.

The explosion killed Farmington fire Capt. Michael Bell, 68, and injured other firefighters. Larry Lord, the LEAP maintenance supervisor who evacuated people from the building before the explosion and spent months in Boston hospitals recovering from his injuries, was also among those injured.

The blast was the result of a severed gas line that caused 400 gallons of propane to leak from a tank outside the new LEAP building over the course of a weekend, according to the fire marshal’s office. The line was severed after a Manchester company installed a safety post six days before the blast and pierced the underground propane line.

The propane tank was filled three days before the blast, on a Friday. That Monday, the morning of the explosion, Lord reported smelling gas in the building.

Rep. Lois Galgay Reckitt, D-South Portland, sponsored the legislation introducing the new rule after learning there were no propane and natural gas detector requirements in place. She told fellow lawmakers she hoped the bill would also encourage those not covered by the law to install gas detectors.

The state fire marshal’s office supported the safety improvement, but questioned how it would be enforced. Most buildings subject to the requirement are only subject to local inspection requirements that vary town to town, Assistant Fire Marshal Richard McCarthy said during a public hearing on the legislation.

The bill passed the Legislature in June, and Gov. Janet Mills signed it into law on June 14.

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is a reporter covering Old Town, Orono and the surrounding areas. A recent graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he's worked for Vermont Public Radio, The...