Franklin Countys First News

Family of firefighter killed in explosion hires attorney

First responders at the scene of the Sept. 16 explosion at 313 Farmington Falls Road. A member of Farmington Fire Rescue was killed in the blast.

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

FARMINGTON - The family of the firefighter killed in the explosion at an office building on the Farmington Falls Road has retained a lawyer to investigate the incident.

Attorney Steven Silin, of the firm Berman & Simmons in Lewiston, has been hired to represent the interests of the family of Capt. Michael Bell, 68, in regards to the Sept. 16 explosion. Silin said Wednesday that his firm would work with experts to "gain a more complete understanding of how this tragedy happened."

"We can then determine how best to hold those responsible accountable as we pursue justice for the family and the community more broadly," Silin said via email. "It's still early in the process."

According to information previously released by the State Fire Marshal's Office, a leak in a buried fuel line enabled propane to leak into the two-story building at 313 Farmington Falls Road. The structure, a newly-renovated office building, housed the administrative and training facilities of LEAP Inc., a local nonprofit.

A large, external tank had been filled with nearly 400 gallons on Sept. 13, but was reportedly empty when it was checked by LEAP employees on Sept. 16. Larry Lord, the LEAP maintenance supervisor, detected the propane in the building's basement and evacuated the office that morning. A Farmington Fire Rescue crew that included Capt. Bell responded at 8:07 a.m. and was in the process of investigating a report of a gas smell when the building exploded.

Capt. Bell, who was believed to be on the first floor of the building, was killed in the explosion. Lord and several other firefighters were badly injured in the blast; while the firefighters have since been released from Maine Medical Center in Portland and returned home, Lord continues to receive treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The building itself was destroyed by the explosion, which also damaged several nearby buildings and displaced roughly 30 people.

Investigators did not previously indicate what caused the leak in the buried line or what sparked the explosion. The State Fire Marshal's Office said Wednesday that there were no updates to report in regards to the investigation.

Silin said that his firm was waiting for the state's report.

"Currently, we are waiting for the state fire marshal to complete his investigation and issue his report," he said. "Legal action is not ruled out. We are still trying to get answers."

Berman & Simmons has the resources and experience to handle "this kind of complex case" on behalf of the family, Silin said.

"At this point the family is still mourning their loss," he said. "That’s where their primary focus lies."

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16 Responses »

  1. As well they should. Inspections are extremely stringent when it comes to new gas lines and their connections, either propane or natural gas. My question is, is the plumbing inspectors report public record? The investigation may go no further than that.

  2. Who installed the tank would be my first question!

  3. I am assuming that the plumbing inspector had signed off that it was inspected? How was the back fill? Was there any rocks? Did they back fill with sand? Was it compacted? .Its a shame that someone had to loose there life over something that wasn't installed rite
    But I am only speculating on what I have read about the situation. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved

  4. I’m wondering how the line got broken. The installers didn’t put it in there with a hole in it. We’ll have a report sometime.

  5. I've wondered if a spark from a walkie-talkie could have triggered the explosion.

  6. My question is why was firemen in the building? Gas leak? Shouldn’t hazmat been called.?

  7. All these speculations people put on here don’t help the situation!
    Read the article, read the names of the companies being investigated by OSHA, and think of what may have damaged the lines while they were already buried, after an inspection!

  8. Regardless of how the leak started, why was anyone in the building without power being cut by CMP at the roadside ? Secondly why was a civilian without proper equipment on allowed into the empty building ? Thanks to first responders but I think a lot of this could have been prevented by not being complacent.

  9. This was a tragic accident and the fire marshall has done an extensive investigation and I am sure will release the full report when it is available. Sadly having lawyers investigate this seems to be all about money. We have an amazing fire department, but they too have some blame in this as they should NEVER have entered the building....Larry Lord evacuated the building for a reason and NO ONE should have re-entered it!

  10. I have to agree with Awww!!

  11. Well JS, I sure hope you never need a first responder to do their job while trying to help YOU! They are firefighters, they entered the building because that is their job! It takes guts and they do it willingly, and selflessly, knowing every call could end tragically. This one did. In this small community, our local firefighters respond to propane leaks ALL THE TIME! With the limited resources in this area, the fire department is who responds to propane leaks. Usually they are not 400 gallons! As for Larry Lord, he is a brave man, I am sure he wanted to do anything he could to help. Criticizing the family for hiring an attorney? What would you do? They are left with unanswered questions, and a whole in their life. They deserve someone to be held accountable. If they find that everything was done correctly, and it was just a freak accident, well then they at least know that. At this point it sounds like there were definitely some things that were not up to code, and for that, yes, they should pay. They should pay big, I am sure you would feel the same if it were your family member. It is not about MONEY, its about being held accountable for the loss of someone's life when it could have been prevented. It's being held accountable for their negligence. I am sure the family would trade any amount of money to have their firefighter back!

  12. Hope it’s never you.. it’s always about the money..unfortunately money rules
    The world....

  13. my two cents, i understand that when people smell gas they get nervous and call the fire department. They show up, They've done the drill a hundred times and 99% of the time it turns out to be nothing. Or there is a good explanation like the gas delivery guy was just there and or they are out of gas. They/we have done it so many times they get lax and seem to not take it so serious. I mean with all respect. Look how close they parked the apparatus to the building they are going to investigate with reports of extremely flammable gas.. im not saying this was just a F.F.R. problem, EVERY department around does it. My opinion is this, if you smell gas. Call the Gas company who you either buy product from or who services your dwelling. They will immediately give you the instructions you should follow to the T, and send a trained and qualified technician over asap. Who will not only find exacly where the leak is but will most likely fix it then and there. Should you still feel uncomfortable or it is in fact a large building with multiple occupants, call the fire department to assist in evacuating and establishing a safe zone. Im not laying blame on anyone or anything. But it could have been avoided. Shouldn't of been a leak in a brand new system thats what pressure tests are for, do one pre buried and post buried. You cant blame it on rocks, if theres rocks it wasnt buried to code. The tank was off and the supply was depleted. Evacuate occupants, set up safe zone, Open windows, get the hell out of there and let the gas company investigate. Shouldn't of had 6 firefighters and a civilian with no PPE walking through a building with gas vapours. Home owners need to understand Propane is a safe fuel, they need to know how to react in the event of a propane smell. Dispatch centers need to work on safe handling of the call between the homeowners and the sending of units to the scene. Fire departments need to remember it might not just be "another" report of gas smell. And there number 1 priority.... life safety. Worry about evacuating occupants safely, Forget about investigating, thats not your job. Shut the tank off and stay out. I think fire departments and dispatchers should familiarize themselves with local gas company S.O.P's or talk about possiblly setting up training or action plans with them. Buildings can be destroyed every day of the week, they can simply be rebuilt and or replaced. Nothing can replace Mike or any life.

    Forgive the horrible grammatical errors.

  14. I don't believe it falls under a plumbing am area that already lacks in building inspections.

  15. To the Bell family
    We hope you get answers to the “How this happened” tragedy! Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

  16. "Hope it's never you"....I hope this NEVER happens again. I was personally affected by this tragedy, so guess what -- it WAS me. I highly respect our fire fighters, police departments, EMT workers, etc. I am very thankful it wasn't worse that it was, but what I am saying is that everyone at the site knew there was a propane leak and in my opinion they should have never entered the building. The fire marshall's and the insurance companies investigations will provide the answers everyone is waiting for so that is why I believe it is all about money when lawyers are getting involved to do their own investigation. You are correct -- the fire fighters were doing their job and they have chosen a very dangerous one and sometimes lives are lost. I just hope that everyone is prepared to share in the blame -- fire fighters included.

    "Talk the Talk" your comments were correct in the event anyone smells propane to do exactly what you mentioned -- however in the case of the LEAP explosion -- no one smelled the propane to spite some early reports to the contrary. This makes the actions of Larry Lord more impressive. He knew there was a problem due to other circumstances and he evacuated everyone and didn't allow anyone else to enter the building. So to add to propane safety everyone should regularly check their tanks to monitor how much propane is there. If you notice a dramatic decline in the amount of propane -- call your fuel company to have it checked out.