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Deadly Gas Explosion at Disability Nonprofit Leaves Farmington Devastated

On the morning of Monday, September 16th, the western Maine town of

Farmington was rocked by a propane gas explosion that would level the new offices of

Life Enrichment Advancing People (LEAP Inc), a local non-profit that provided

services to severely disabled adults. One firefighter, Captain Michael Bell, who was 68

and had thirty years experience as a firefighter, was killed. Six other firefighters were

injured, along with maintenance worker Larry Lord. Lord has been credited with saving

nearly a dozen lives by evacuating everyone when he smelled gas in the newly

constructed building minutes before it exploded. Lord himself received extensive injuries and was evacuated via Life Flight to a hospital in Boston, where he remained over six

weeks later.

According to a statement, the firefighters injured included: Fire Rescue Chief Terry Bell Sr., 62, with serious injuries; Lord, the LEAP maintenance worker, with serious injuries; Captain Tim Hardy, 40; Capt. Scott Baxter, 37; firefighter Theodore Baxter, 64; and firefighter Joseph Hastings, 24. They were all admitted into intensive care at Maine Medical Center in

Portland. Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Clyde Ross was also injured, but he was treated and released the same day. As of the writing of this article, all six firefighters have been released from the hospital, with all of them receiving a heroes procession of fire firefighters meeting the injured firefighter in Rome, on Route 27, which proceeded for over twenty miles to Farmington. Residents along the route were frequently seen waiting for the procession to go by their houses.

Along with the destruction of the LEAP offices, eleven trailers at a nearby mobile

home park were destroyed, leaving thirty people homeless. News reports also

document a car being literally thrown across an intersection as a result of the blast.

The Farmington Fair, an agricultural fair that runs for a week, closed early on the day of

the fire, but it reopened the next day. Route 2, a major thoroughfare used for shipping in

western Maine, was diverted for two days as a result of the explosion. In the weeks

since the explosion, a leaking pipe was found to have been the cause. Fortunately, because it was early in the morning when Lord smelled gas fumes, it was before any clients were being seen, which is a blessing because the deathtoll could have been significantly higher.

Governor Janet Mills, who calls Farmington her hometown, ordered flags lowered

to half mast for two days. Farmington has a rich history of being a center of education. Being in Western Maine, Farmington was seen as a hub for many social services for the disabled because it was closer than the larger cities of Lewiston or Portland.

On September 16, over forty different fire departments responded to the

explosion. The explosion and damage associated with it make it the worst fire in Maine

in the past hundred years. In researching dozens of articles for this piece, it is beyond

apparent that the firefighters of Maine are not only a “brotherhood” in a union or shared

career, but many families have generations of relatives who labor as firefighters. In

Maine, Captain Michael Bell was the second firefighter to lose his life this year in the

line of duty. Prior to 2019, It had been 38 years since a firefighter died in the line of duty

in Maine.

A GoFundMe page has been setup for Larry Lord, who is currently in the burn unit of

Massachusetts General Hospital, where he is expected to be for four months while recuperating from burns on over half of his body. Find the Gofundme page here!

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