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Selectmen approve ‘Tribute to Resilience’ memorial in Bjorn Park

A memorial for those injured or killed in the LEAP explosion is planned for Bjorn Park.

FARMINGTON - The Board of Selectmen met Tuesday evening and approved moving forward with a planned memorial in honor of those killed and injured in last year's explosion at an office building on the Farmington Falls Road.

Residents, first responders and town officials recently recognized the one-year anniversary of the explosion, which occurred at LEAP's newly-renovated administration and training building on Sept. 16, 2019 as firefighters with Farmington Fire Rescue investigated a report of gas in the building. Capt. Michael Bell, 68, a 30-year member of the department, was killed in the explosion and six other firefighters were injured: Fire Chief Terry Bell, Deputy Chief Clyde Ross, Capt. Timothy "TD" Hardy, Capt. Scott Baxter, firefighter Joseph Hastings and firefighter Theodore "Ted" Baxter. Also injured was Larry Lord, the LEAP maintenance director that had already evacuated his fellow LEAP employees from building. The source of the explosion was later traced by the State Fire Marshal's Office to a severed propane line which had allowed the gas to permeate the building. The line had been severed days earlier by a post that had been installed to protect an air conditioning unit.

The memorial will be installed in Bjorn Park, across the road from the former site of the Life Enrichment Advancing People Inc. building. Consisting of seven bells made from recycled fire extinguishers underneath a roof supported by posts, the memorial will likely be installed in the spring of 2021, according to organizers.

John Nichols said that the design, initially proposed by local artist Vera Johnson, had passed through a series of meetings and discussions with different stakeholders, including the Bell and Bjorn families. Darryl Wood, executive director of LEAP, sat on the design committee.

"It's not going to dominate the park by any means," Wood said. "As people wander over and take a look they can reflect on the community and what happened."

The memorial's roof and small cupola will be designed to resemble an old-time firehouse, Nichols said. The open rafter design will accommodate small mementos or memorabilia, such as other department badges. Nichols said that while the exact size of the memorial would depend on the bells, he estimated that it would be roughly 12 feet long and 3 feet wide, with the eaves rising to roughly 8 feet.

The name of the memorial will be 'Tribute to Resilience,' organizers told the board.

A grant provided by the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area LEAP Explosion Fund, previously approved by the LEAP Explosion Fund committee, will allow for the installation of the memorial. Nichols said that he did not expect a long construction process, due to the simplicity of the underlying design.

Selectmen asked that those planning the memorial continue to keep everyone informed and seek feedback from those most impacted by the explosion. They unanimously approved the concept to move forward.

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