A new report has been released about the 2019 Farmington explosion that killed a fire captain and injured seven other people.
The 73-page report details new insight on the tragedy that took place in the small Maine town.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conducted the report, which the Farmington Fire Department voluntarily participated in. The report includes the timeline of events that killed Capt. Michael Bell and injured six firefighters and the building’s maintenance supervisor, Larry Lord. The report lists contributing factors which include improper gas sampling, monitoring and detection, lack of understanding of a multi-gas monitor’s capability and lack of hazardous materials and recertification.
The report lists three recommendations for future calls.
The first is that crews responding to a hazardous materials incident should make sure an initial risk assessment is performed. Fire departments should also establish isolation zones and make sure there is a continuous risk assessment throughout the incident.
The report said unlike a fast-paced offensive structural firefighting incident, a hazardous materials incident should start in a defensive strategy.
The second is that fire departments should initiate a defensive strategy and communicate the action plan during the initial operations of the incident.
The report said all incidents involving hazardous material should have these top priorities: define the hazard zone, isolate the hazard zone, search and evacuate exposures and protect exposures.
And the third recommendation is that fire departments should make sure firefighters are trained to understand the scrubbing or odorant fade of ethyl meracaptan from propane. This training includes use of multi-gas detectors to determine if a potentially explosive atmosphere is present.
During the investigation conducted by the Maine fire marshal’s office, investigators dug up the propane supply line two days later and found a high concentration of ethyl mercaptan in the soil.
The report said training on sample monitoring and detecting is critical.
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. The six firefighters injured in the blast included Fire Chief Terry Bell; Deputy Fire Chief Clyde Ross; Capt. Timothy Hardy; Capt. Scott Baxter; his father, Theodore Baxter; and Joseph Hastings.
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 2020. He was finally welcomed home that 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.
BDN writer Christopher Burns contributed to this report.