Franklin Countys First News

‘The inherent goodness of the human spirit’

Members of Farmington Fire Rescue and others gather around a display created to honor those injured and killed in last year's explosion. The display includes Capt. Michael Bell's turnout gear.

FARMINGTON - First responders, town officials and their supporters gathered at the site of last year's devastating explosion Wednesday to remember what was lost and "the inherent goodness of the human spirit."

Director Darryl Wood of Life Enrichment Advancing People Inc., whose organization's newly-renovated office building was destroyed in the blast, said that inherent goodness had been fully evidenced by the immediate reactions of public officials, first responders, hospital staff, LEAP employees and community members after Farmington had been "knocked off balance" by the blast.

"That was all on day 1," Wood said.

Governor Janet Mills hands Chief Terry Bell a bouquet of flowers after her remarks.

Day 1 was Sept.  16, 2019. As Farmington Fire Rescue firefighters conducted a gas investigation in the LEAP administration and training facility, then located at 313 Farmington Falls Road, the building exploded. Capt. Michael Bell, 68, a 30-year member of the department was killed. 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.

"It really doesn't seem like it's been a year," Town Manager Richard Davis said during his remarks at Wednesday's event. "It's gone by so fast."

Tower 3, prior to the start of the event.

The explosion had been one of the rare events that tests a community's strength, Davis said. Lord and six firefighters were injured, many of them badly. Nearby residences were damaged or destroyed. Capt. Bell, a 30-year member of the department, was killed.

"We lost a beloved brother firefighter and dedicated civil servant that day," Davis said. "He will never be forgotten."

In the days following the explosion, donations of money, food and other goods poured in, highlighting the "empathy, compassion and love" demonstrated by people both from within and outside the community, Davis said. The town's fund raised more than $112,000, with much of that funding going to meet the needs of residents impacted by the blast. United Way of the Tri-Valley Area's LEAP Explosion Fund raised more than $218,000; $154,000 of that was spent to benefit 48 individuals, Davis said, reparing damage, cleaning up around the site, funding the Firemen's Benevolent Fund and going toward a memorial sculpture, with the remaining funds set aside as seed money for a new housing project and to meet the mental health needs of explosion survivors.

Speakers also thanked fire departments across the state for assisting Farmington in the days following the explosion. More than 80 departments provided crews to ensure that the local station was manned for weeks, day and night, with some traveling for hours from places like Bar Harbor, Calais and Lincoln.

"Please know," Davis said, "we would return the favor in the blink of an eye should a need arise in any of your communities."

"No one could imagine how many lives would change forever," Deputy Chief Tim Hardy said. He went on to thank the firefighters, ambulance services and other medical professionals, members of law enforcement and the citizens of Farmington and beyond for their assistance.

Hardy also thanked the Bell family for "[sharing] your husband and father, Michael Bell, for so many years as a firefighter." He called Capt. Bell one of the most active and dedicated members of the department, pointing to his enthusiasm for learning new techniques and his 30 year tenure on Farmington Fire Rescue.

Governor Janet Mills, a Farmington resident, thanked those present for sharing in memories of Bell and those injured in the explosion, before giving Chief Terry Bell a bouquet of flowers.

Prior to the public event held at 11 a.m., fire department members and the family of Capt. Bell held private ceremonies at the fire station and at Fairview Cemetery.

From the morning of the explosion, Sept. 16, 2019.

A display honoring Capt. Bell, Sept. 16, 2020.

 

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