Names of those injured, killed in Farmington explosion released

 dailybulldog.com  09/16/2019 17:41:48  2  Ben Hanstein

FARMINGTON - The State Fire Marshal's Office, working with Farmington police and fire departments, has released the names of those killed or injured in this morning's explosion at the Leap Inc. building.

Capt. Michael Bell, 68, a 30-year veteran of Farmington Fire Rescue, was killed in the explosion, according to information released by Maine Department of Public Safety spokesperson Steve McCausland.

Capt. Michael Bell (Photo from the Farmington town website)

A total of six other firefighters were injured, five of them seriously.

As previously indicated by Police Chief Jack Peck, Fire Chief Terry Bell, 62, was injured in the blast. Terry Bell and Michael Bell are brothers.

Also among the injured was Capt. Timothy D. Hardy, 40; Capt. Scott Baxter, 37; and his father and fellow firefighter, Theodore Baxter, 64; and Firefighter Joseph Hastings.

All five men are being treated at Maine Medical Center in Portland, having sustained serious injuries.

Also injured was Deputy Fire Chief Clyde Ross, who was treated and released from Franklin Memorial Hospital.

Chief Bell, Hardy, Capt. Baxter and Hastings are all full-time firefighters. Ross, Theodore Baxter and Ross are all part-time firefighters.

Also injured in the explosion, as previously indicated, was Larry Lord, 60, who worked as a maintenance employee for the facility. Lord, who was credited by witnesses for helping evacuate the building prior to the explosion, was flown to Mass General in Boston.

McCausland wrote that State Fire Marshals Office investigators will be joined by personnel from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency to begin processing the scene tomorrow. They will then seek to pinpoint the source of the explosion.

McCausland noted that firefighters were called to the scene at 8:07 a.m. this morning after a propane smell was detected in the building. The explosion occurred a few minutes later, destroying the two-story Leap Inc. building.

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At the scene, employees and neighbors gather on the traffic triangle between High and Farmington Falls Road in Farmington.

[Update 2:59 p.m.] - Two prayer vigils have been announced for this evening in Farmington, as the state's senators offered condolences following this morning's explosion.

People of all faiths are invited to gather together at St. Joseph Church on 133 Middle Street in Farmington tonight, Monday, Sept. 16, at 6 p.m. to pray for all those affected by todays explosion, including parishioner and LEAP employee Larry Lord. Lord has been credited by witnesses for helping Leap Inc. employees evacuate the building prior to the explosion.

Father Paul Dumais, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, will begin with the Angelus followed by the Litany and a special Mass at 6:30 p.m. Bread, cheese and coffee will follow in the basement hall of the church at 7 p.m.

"We are close to those who are suffering from the explosion today. We stand in solidarity with first responders whose courage we honor," Dumais said.

Later Monday evening, Old South First Congregational Church, UCC, will hold a candlelit prayer vigil from 7 to 8 p.m. at 235 Main Street. Those interested in joining that prayer vigil can process from St. Joseph together.

"On behalf of the Diocese of Portland, I join the Farmington community in mourning the tragic death caused by this mornings explosion and praying for the recovery of those injured," said Bishop Robert P. Deeley. "We offer our support and our prayers to their families and friends. We also extend our sincere gratitude for the heroism displayed by residents and public safety personnel who responded. May the soul of the individual who died and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace."

The state's senators have offered condolences following Monday's explosion.

Via press release, Senator Angus King said: "Though the details are still coming in, the initial facts are heartbreaking: a fallen hero with more injured; a new facility prepared to make a lasting, positive impact on the region reduced to rubble; a community gripped by fear and grief. Todays explosion at the LEAP building is a tragedy of monumental proportions, and its impacts will reverberate throughout our state in the days ahead. As we await more information, we must all stand ready to offer support to everyone impacted by the ripple effect of this disaster, and always - always - remember to express our endless gratitude for the brave first responders who rise every day prepared to risk their lives for ours."

Senator Susan Collins said that she was praying for the firefighters and their families, as well as civilians hurt in the explosion, in a statement made via Twitter. "I am absolutely heartbroken to hear that a firefighter was killed and several others were injured in a terrible explosion responding to a call in Farmington this morning. Based on initial reports, other people were also hurt," Collins wrote. "I am praying for the firefighters and their families as well as the civilians who were hurt in todays explosion. We can never repay our debt to the brave men and women like these firefighters in Farmington today who put their lives on the line to keep us safe."

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[Update 1:23 p.m.] - FARMINGTON - One longtime Farmington Fire Rescue firefighter was killed and six other people were injured after an explosion destroyed an office building on Farmington Falls Road this morning.

Employees of the Leap Inc. building, located at 313 Farmington Falls Road, reported smelling propane this morning, prompting an investigation by Fire Chief Terry Bell and other firefighters at 8:07 a.m. The explosion occurred during that investigation, according to Police Chief Jack Peck, calling the event a "tragic accident."

Police Chief Jack Peck speaks to the media, alongside Sheriff Scott Nichols and Governor Janet Mills, as well as other state officials.

Peck, Sheriff Scott Nichols, Governor Janet Mills and state law enforcement officials appeared at a brief press conference held on the Farmington Falls Road. To Peck's knowledge, it is was the first firefighter to have died in Farmington in the line of duty.

"All of us are one big family," Peck said. "We all know the fire chief, we all know the firefighter that was killed today."

The name of the firefighter has not been released, pending notification of the family. Maine Department of Public Safety spokesperson Steve McCausland said that the firefighter would be transported to the State Medical Examiner's Office later today via a procession.

In addition to the deceased firefighter, four other members of Farmington Fire Rescue, including Bell, were injured in the explosion, as was a member of NorthStar EMS and a Leap Inc. employee. All of the injured individuals had been rushed to Franklin Memorial Hospital, Peck said, and then transported via LifeFlight or ground transport to hospitals across the state. The injuries included burns and other injuries consistent with an explosion, Peck said.

In a press release, Maine Medical Center in Portland indicated that it was anticipating the transfer of several patients from Farmington to its emergency department and that trauma teams were standing by.

Sheriff Scott Nichols, who was one of the first responders to arrive at the scene after the explosion, helped pull injured people from the building. He said that the devastation went beyond his 35 years in law enforcement, instead comparing it to the year he spent in Iraq. He noted that losses and injuries to the responding members of Farmington Fire Rescue, including full-time members, would reverberate into the future.

"This is really going to affect Farmington and the surrounding communities," Nichols said.

Other, nearby buildings were also damaged in the blast - Peck said that police had reports of people feeling the explosion as far away as Wilton - but the police chief wasn't certain as to the number of damaged structures. First responders were going door to door throughout the neighborhood and finding people that were shaken, but otherwise fine. The blast did damage Farmington's ladder truck, which is expected to be out of commission for some time. Peck said that a truck from Augusta was on its way to Farmington.

Red Cross was on the scene to offer aid to anyone displaced by the explosion, Peck said. He said that departments would work to reopen Farmington Falls Road as soon as possible. The nearby Farmington Fair, set to celebrate Ag Day with local area schools, was closed Monday.

Governor Janet Mills was at the press conference, where she said that Farmington was a strong and close-knit community. "Our hearts go out to all the families," Mills said, later acknowledging after a question that she knew the deceased firefighter. Mills said that priorities included determining what happened and working to prevent future incidents.

Mills' office later indicated via press release that flags would be flown at half-staff across the state through sunset Wednesday, Sept. 18 in honor of the people that were injured or killed in the blast.

Farmington is a strong, close-knit and resilient community, of which I am proud to be a part. This loss is devastating and felt by all of Maine,said Mills in the statement. My heart goes out to the loved ones of the firefighter lost and those injured. On this tragic day,I ask the people of Maine to join with me in offering our thoughts and prayers to the people of Franklin County and our deepest gratitude to our first responders.

Peck noted that the primary investigative agencies will be the state Fire Marshal's Office and Maine State Police.

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The scene of the explosion on Farmington Falls Road. Officials ask that people avoid the area until further notice. Traffic has been rerouted to Route 156.

The explosion blew insulation across nearby streets and sidewalks.

Emergency responders on the scene on the Farmington Falls Road.

[Update 12:12 p.m.] - According to a statement posted to the Farmington Police Department's Facebook page, the Farmington Fire Department responded to a report of a "gas smell" at 313 Farmington Falls Road at 8:07 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 16. The building is the newly constructed home to LEAP, a non-profit dedicated to assisting adults with disabilities. Upon arrival during an investigation the building exploded. One Farmington Fire Department member was killed in the explosion, six other individuals have been injured. All were transported by Northstar ambulance to Franklin Memorial Hospital. The injured have been transferred to other hospitals throughout the state. Multiple homes in the area were damaged and the LEAP building was totally destroyed. At this time, the department reported not being aware of any further fatalities and not knowing the extent of the injuries. Resources from the state have arrived on scene to begin the investigation. The State Fire Marshals Office is on scene and will be coordinating with the Maine State Police Incident Management Team, and local police and fire during the investigation. Local first responders from the entire area were at the scene immediately to render first aid and remove the injured from the scene.

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[Update 10:35 a.m.] - According to Governor Janet Mills, one firefighter has been confirmed killed in a building explosion on Farmington Falls Road in Farmington and others were injured.

According to those at the scene, employees at LEAP arrived at work and reported smelling propane to emergency responders. They evacuated to a location away from the building. Fire fighters entered the building to investigate and it exploded.

"I am closely monitoring the explosion in Farmington and have instructed the Department of Public Safety to keep me apprised of the situation," Mills said. "Per protocol, the State Fire Marshals Office will thoroughly investigate the cause and origin of this devastating explosion. Our hearts go out to all those impacted by this tragedy, especially to the loved ones of the firefighter lost and others injured. I am grateful for the work of first responders who are at the scene and urge Maine people to avoid the area."

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An explosion destroyed the new LEAP Inc. building at 313 Farmington Falls Road this morning.

FARMINGTON - One building was destroyed and others were badly damaged after an explosion was reported on the Farmington Falls Road Monday morning.

The new LEAP Inc. building at 313 Farmington Falls Road was destroyed by an explosion sometime after 8 a.m. Numerous law enforcement, fire and ambulance personnel are continuing to arrive at the scene. The blast shook buildings across Farmington.

Multiple ambulances were seen leaving the scene. The number and nature of any injuries have not been reported. Farmington Falls Road and High Street are both expected to be closed for an undermined length of time.

LEAP, an organization that supports adults with developmental, cognitive and intellectual disabilities, recently opened its central office building after an expansion project that began last year. A grand opening had been planned for October.

Darryl Wood, LEAP executive director, was arriving to work when the explosion occurred. He said that employees reported smelling propane and had evacuated to their designated evacuation location when it happened. One LEAP employee had been transported with an injured leg but otherwise, all employees were accounted for, Wood said.

At the scene, employees and neighbors gathered on the traffic triangle between High and Farmington Falls Road as white insulation and pieces of paper blown into the sky by the explosion fell around them. Several breathed through face masks or their shirts, others called friends and family to tell them they were all right. After a few minutes, police taped off the triangle; people are being asked to avoid the area.

Kyle Fox, a resident of Farmington Falls, was in his bed when the explosion occurred. The blast tore a door from its frame and broke basement windows, he said.

More information will be posted when it becomes available.

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