Franklin Countys First News

To the community: Thank you

On September 16, 2019, a horrific explosion at the LEAP training and administration center shook the Farmington community, the State of Maine and made national and international headlines. For close to a year, the town of Farmington had watched the construction project at 313/317 Farmington Falls Rd. being built step by step. In our small community, virtually everyone knew someone who worked at LEAP, worked on the project, or had some connection to the project. The events of 9/16/2019 affected the entire community from which we continue to heal. As a result of the incident, firefighter Michael Bell lost his life, LEAP Maintenance Director Larry Lord was critically injured, and six other firefighters had varying degrees of significant injuries. In addition, several LEAP employees and visitors, barely evacuated from the building, were firsthand witnesses to the devastation. Family and friends of people involved had to grapple with the unknown, and the reality of what happened to people they cared about. Multiple families and individuals in the immediate vicinity had their lives disrupted.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of this heartbreaking incident, the community continues to deal with how best to move forward, remaining mindful of the indelible impacts on so many of us.

In reflecting back on 9/16, one word continues to resonate across all fronts. Community. LEAP, a nonprofit organization that assists adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live included lives, has always been about community. Everyone within the LEAP community instantly galvanized in support of our mission, and the community at large could not possibly have been more supportive. First responders and public safety officials all performed selflessly under extreme duress. There’s no doubt lives were saved and injuries lessened by the professional and timely response of countless people involved in triage, care, and coordination in the face of chaos. Multiple individuals, organizations, and businesses from near and far, stepped up to help just when and where they were needed. While there were too many helpers to recognize in this short message, it is noteworthy to mention that over 80 different fire departments responded over a period of months to staff the Farmington Department while it recovered to full capacity. A short message from Larry Lord, LEAP’s director of maintenance, speaks to the above.

“As is true for many of us, it has been a long and difficult year. And although I have made much progress, I know that I still have a long road ahead of me. I want to thank family, neighbors in Jay, friends from Farmington, and people across the whole State for the outpouring of love and support. It means a great deal to us. It has made this journey a lot easier. I especially want to thank my co-workers at LEAP and the Farmington firefighters who put everything on the line and who sacrificed so much. You are the true heroes. We will never forget.”

This open letter to the community, sent jointly from LEAP and the Farmington Fire Department, is intended to respectfully honor everyone impacted by the events of 9/16/19, to thank the public for its continued and ongoing love and support, and to announce the events planned for the one year anniversary on 9/16/2020. Due to the considerations for public safety and the state restrictions on large gatherings, the one-year anniversary will be a low-key event, with LEAP and the fire department engaging in some private events in the morning. Later in the day, there will be an opportunity for the community to participate in a drive by between 10am-2pm, where a large flag and thank you banner will be hung from a fire truck in the LEAP parking lot.

While the events of 9/16/19 can never be undone, the amazing people of greater Franklin County have surely helped with the healing process. LEAP and the Farmington Fire Department wish to thank each one of you for helping us get to this point, and as we move into the future. What an amazing community to be a part of.

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