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Technician who filled propane tank prior to LEAP explosion fined, suspended

FARMINGTON - A propane and natural gas technician has been fined $1,300 and had his license suspended for 15 days for reportedly failing to perform a leak check on a propane tank three days prior to the Sept. 16, 2019 explosion at the Life Enrichment Advancing People Inc. office building that killed one firefighter and badly injured several other people.

The technician, George Barker, signed a consent agreement with the Maine Fuel Board, part of the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, and Attorney General's Office. In that agreement, which was finalized on June 9, Barker admitted to not checking the piping system for leakage after refilling the propane tank on Sept. 13, 2019.

According to the state Fire Marshal's Office investigators The building exploded three days later as a Farmington Fire Rescue team and LEAP maintenance supervisor Larry Lord were investigating a report of a gas smell. One firefighter, Capt. Michael Bell, 68, was killed in the explosion and Lord and several firefighters were injured.

The consent agreement indicates that Barker was employed by CN Brown Energy, who dispatched the technician to 313 Farmington Falls Road on the morning of Sept. 13 after receiving a call regarding an empty tank. According to attorneys representing Lord, LEAP employees reporting to work on the evening of Sept. 12 discovered that the building had no hot water. Lord and another employee learned of the interruption the next morning and checked the building's propane tank, with Lord then calling CN Brown.

According to the consent agreement signed by Barker and representatives of the Maine Fuel Board and AG's Office, Barker refilled the tank but did not check the piping system for leaks. That is an alleged violation of a Maine Fuel Board rule adopted from the 2012 National Fuel Gas Code of the National Fire Protection Association, which reads:

Leak Check. Immediately after the gas is turned on into a new system or a into a system that has been initially restored after an interruption of service, the piping system shall be checked for leakage. Where leakage is indicated, the gas supply shall be shut off until the necessary repairs have been made.

According to the Fire Marshal's Office, the line leading from the tank to the building was severed by the auger head of a bollard - a post used to direct traffic - on Sept. 10. Investigators previously indicated that bollard, one of four installed by Techno Metal Posts of Manchester to protect an external air conditioning unit, was drilled into the paved parking lot and severed the line.

The consent agreement indicates that Barker acknowledged that were the matter to proceed to an administrative hearing before the Maine Fuel Board, the evidence presented could be sufficient to support a finding of a violation of the rule. The agreement includes a civil penalty of $1,300, a reprimand for not performing a leak check and a 15-day suspension of license.

Previous state and federal action relating to the explosion include fines levied against LEAP and Techno Metal Post by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for alleged violations of the general safety and health provisions of the agency's regulations. Inspections opened by OSHA on CN Brown and another company, Cornerstone Plumbing and Heating, were both closed without any citations. Maine Department of Labor also issued a preliminary report on the explosion as it relates to the town of Farmington, including violations of equipment and training standards.

Attorneys representing Larry Lord have indicated that they intend to file a civil suit that could involve Maine Techno Post and CN Brown. Daniel Kagan and Steven Silin, both of the firm Berman & Simmons, indicated Wednesday that they are in the process of compiling the long-term consequences of the explosion for Lord.

Silin said that Lord, who suffered burns over 85 percent of his body, was dependent upon his wife and home care and that he remained in contact with doctors at Mass General Hospital. Complications relating to his injuries necessitated surgical procedures, Silin said, calling both Lord and his wife, "extraordinary people."

The explosion occurred because Techno Metal Post had not followed laws relating to excavations around utility lines, Silin said, while the technician employed by CN Brown did not perform the required check that would have discovered the leak.

"They're both clearly factors," Kagan said.

Responding to a question from a reporter regarding the fine and suspension included within the consent agreement signed by Barker, Silin noted that the Maine Fuel Board was addressing their own regulations and requirements, not invoking punishment in relation to the explosion itself.

Barker was a former firefighter, Silin said. "I know Mr. Barker felt terrible about what happened," he said Wednesday.

Silin and Kagan represent Lord, while the family of Bell and firefighters injured in the explosion are being represented by Walter McKee of McKee Law. Silin said that he anticipated that a civil suit filed in relation to the incident would be filed jointly by all of the parties.

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16 Responses »

  1. YOU NEED TO CHECK YOUR SOURCES BEFORE YOU THROW SOME GUY UNDER THE BUS!!!

  2. P.O. - ??
    If you google "george barker consent agreement facts - Maine.gov" you will find the agreement Mr. Barker himself signed. That seems like a very good source.
    I am so sorry for everyone involved, I am sure there was no malicious intent. That said, it appears there were some mistakes that people rightfully should own.

  3. How about pointing the finger at whoever ordered the propane delivery after just a few days since a fill? Or the people who entered an empty gas filled building without following protocol?

  4. It is a shame that Mr Barker was named in the news.

  5. Unfortunate that the delivery driver made a mistake he’s been in this field for many years. Let’s not forgot the company that drilled right through an underground LP line. Also the explosion could have been avoided if the fire department took the leak serious. They charged into a building full of gas did not wait for CMP to arrive to drop power to the building. If they would have taken it serious Mr. Lord would have not been in that building with zero protective gear. Lots of mistakes made that day and the days leading up to the explosion!!

  6. Bud..I agree with you..Think there were several mistakes made in this case...which when you put it all together makes a tragic event. And I know how people in small towns can be.

  7. To Captain Planet -- please read all the reports -- this was a terrible accident and it was avoidable.
    The propane tank was NOT refilled after a few days -- it completely leaked out over a few days AFTER the delivery.
    ALL of us make mistakes -- sadly some of these mistakes cost people their lives and injure others -- that is just what happened on 9/16. Nothing premeditated or malicious -- just a mistake with horrible consequences.

  8. Barker was the only person who could/should have known there was a problem

  9. @Techie- Your right. Lots of mistakes made that day and the days leading up to the terrible tragedy. Not 1 single person to be named as the person who made the mistake.

  10. Chuck Davis.........
    How do you figure that???????

  11. The Consent Agreement is not an admission of fault. Nowhere in the Agreement is it stated that Mr. Barker was at fault. There are things we obviously do not know. It stated that Mr. Barker refilled the tank. How much propane did he fill? What was the size of the tank? Was it truly out of propane? We do not know. Did the employee from Leap assume they were out of propane because they did not have hot water? We don’t know. It is stated that he did not do a leak test. Why didn’t he do a leak test? We don’t know. What are the company protocols for doing a leak test? If propane was still in the tank, are they still required to do a leak test? Yes, Mr. Lord is a hero, he saved many lives by getting them out on the building, but why did he re-enter the building after 911 had been called? We don’t know. There was no reason for him to re-enter, and he should never have been allowed to re-enter the building after the fire department arrived. Who told techno metal post where to drill the holes? We don’t know. So yes, there are still many questions to be answered before we can point fingers at one single person. It’s human nature to pass judgment based on what information is in front of you. I just believe there are other factors involved here, and to throw Mr. Barker under the bus, and have people say horrible, horrible things about him (not here, but other sites) is truly unfair. Mr. Lord’s attorney was quoted as saying that Mr. Lord and his wife are “extraordinary people“. If you know Mr. Barker, then you know that he too is an extraordinary person.

  12. 1st- propane tanks were not empty. C..N Brown's procedure calls for a leak test if the tank is below 5%. They were not, which is why C.N. Brown has been found to not be at fault. Barker followed protocol, but was thrown under the bus.

    2nd-Leap was fined $12000 for lack of competent person marking underground utility lines.

    3rd-techno fined almost $5000 for similar infraction as LEAP.
    Owner was also fined $1000.

    4th- Fire Dept should never have gone into the building and certainly should have never allowed Larry to come into the building with them.

    5th-dig safe does not cover underground propane lines.

    This was a bad accident that never should have happened. It's easy to judge from behind your screen using an anonymous name and attack someone who followed regulatory procedures. If chief Bell called CMP and the DEP, nobody would have been in the building. If Leap had someone there to let techno know where their propane line ran or reported the smell of gas before the weekend or If techno didn't knick the line. If dig safe cover propane lines.
    This brought the community together and now people are tearing it apart.

  13. I think probably the legal system will sort this all out as time goes one in terms of who did what, when, where, and how. How much was left in the propane tank will be clear; who should have done what, when, and in what manner will be evidence. The proceedings, as much as we may not like then, will probably make clear the IF's, AND's, and BUT's of the whole drill. There were no Bad Guys in an of this with evil intent. I think calling CMP and DEP at every whiff and complaint of propane is an over-reach that would paralyze every town in the state of Maine, but everyone is entitled to an opinion. It remains a tragedy felt by all.

  14. Many things that would have been done different if we could go back in time. We can't. Nothing will bring Mike back, eliminate the suffering that Lord, the firefighters, and the town went through. George is also suffering, remember he is a good man and a long time Farmington firefighter. Stop name calling, that benefits no one. Remember the towns people and businesses and other fire departments stepping up to help.

  15. my 2 cents .I think the piping system should have been pressure tested for at least 15 minutes without any pressure drop. And then inspected by a licensed plumbing inspector who then signs off and leaves a tag saying it was inspected and has passed inspection. So the the delivery guy sees that it has passed an inspection. What dose a delivery guy know about a gas piping system?it seams to me the gas code needs to be updated. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved in this sad tragedy

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