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A Maine firefighter was killed, and seven other people – including six of his fellow first-responders – were injured in a Farmington explosion Monday morning.
Farmington fire captain Michael Bell, 68, was killed. The 30-year-veteran of the department was the brother of fire chief Terry Bell, 62, who was injured in the explosion.
The propane gas explosion leveled a recently renovated facility that housed administrative offices for LEAP Inc., an organization that helps people with developmental disabilities. The organization’s residents live in other houses in the area.
Bell’s death marks another heartbreaking loss for Maine firefighters this year. On March 1, fire captain Joel Barnes was killed fighting a four-alarm house fire in Berwick in southern Maine. At his memorial service in Portland, Oxford fire chief Gary Sacco, 63, suffered a medical emergency and died.
Four in intensive care
Other firefighters injured in Monday’s explosion were captain Timothy D. Hardy, 40; captain Scott Baxter, 37; his father, Theodore Baxter, 64; Joseph Hastings, 24; and deputy fire chief Clyde Ross.
Ross was released from Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington. The five other firefighters injured were taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland, and four of them are in intensive care, a hospital spokesperson said.
Chief Bell, Hardy, Scott Baxter, and Hastings are full-time members of the Farmington Fire Department, officials said, and Michael Bell, Theodore Baxter, and Ross were part-timers.
Employee risks life
The only non-firefighter injured was maintenance worker Larry Lord, who risked his life to evacuate people, officials said. Lord, 60, was taken by helicopter to Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston.
The Rev. Paul Dumais of Farmington’s St. Joseph’s Church, where Lord and his wife are parishioners, said Lord evacuated people out of the building “at risk to his own life.” Lord was in critical condition at MGH, a hospital spokesperson said.
About three-dozen people gathered at St. Joseph’s Church in the evening to pray for Michael Bell and his family, and to show community support for everyone affected by the explosion.
Residents show support
Jim Kiernan, a public works foreman who also serves as a member of the Farmington Fire Rescue, described the scene in a phone call to the Boston Globe:
“I was here shortly after the explosion. I was six miles away, so I didn’t feel the explosion. It was heard 17 miles away. Quite an explosion.
“It was mayhem. A lot of injured people and debris fields covering a big area. Nothing left of the building. There were pieces everywhere.”
Maine Gov. Janet T. Mills, who is from the town of about 7,700 people, called the blast “devastating.”
“Farmington is a strong, close-knit, and resilient community, of which I am proud to be a part,” Mills said in a statement. “This loss is devastating and felt by all of Maine.”
Theresa Ferro, a direct support professional with LEAP, described the town as safe and close-knit. “I like to believe that in this state, I like to believe that in this town, we take care of each other,” she said.
At LEAP, Ferro helps residents care for themselves, and she said the organization “teaches people how to have independence.”
Insulation covers area
Firefighters had been called to the building on Route 2 and Farmington Falls Road at 8:07 a.m. after a gas smell had been reported. The explosion rocked the area minutes later, officials said.
Afterward, white insulation from the demolished building covered the ground in the area like snow.
Robert Ferro, the husband of Theresa Ferro, said it was “raining cellulose” Monday morning, and the sky was black. He said the explosion could be heard for miles around. “You ever heard a sonic boom?” he said. “It was like that, only 10 times the strength.”
The two-story building, which had a recently opened addition, was flattened. The Maine Fire Marshal’s office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are on the scene investigating.
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