Two-woman team steps in to help firefighters, residents after fatal propane explosion
After the explosion that killed Fire Rescue Capt. Michael Bell and seriously injured six firefighters, two local women stepped in to organize support for those affected
Donna M. Perry
Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine
FARMINGTON, Maine — Kelsea Pinkham and Angie Alexander stepped up to help people in need and made a difference in a time of crisis.
The two worked as a team in September and October to do what they could to help firefighters, people whose homes were lost, emergency responders and employees of LEAP Inc., following a fatal propane explosion on Sept. 16 at LEAP’s central office building.
Fire Rescue Capt. Michael Bell was killed, six firefighters and LEAP’s maintenance supervisor were seriously or critically injured, and about 30 people who lived near the building were displaced.
The women are good friends, live in Farmington, work at Franklin Savings Bank and are married to Farmington firefighters.
Pinkham and Alexander initially began by coordinating meals for the Fire Rescue Department, emergency responders and people who were dislocated and eating at the fire station.
By having all those people together, they started hearing what some of the immediate needs were and what needed to be done.
While they were at the station, Westbrook firefighter/paramedic Gerry Pineau of Lewiston was helping the department by fielding countless phone calls and people stopping in wanting to do something, Pinkham said.
The two decided organizing meals for initially 50 to 70 people was something they could do.
Alexander and Pinkham made calls and visited various businesses, convenience stores and restaurants for donations. Countless families also pulled together to provide meals. Churches, teachers groups and others did the same. The pair also picked up meals.
“We couldn’t have done it without each other and our families and friends who helped us through this,” Pinkham, 26, said.
University of Maine at Farmington stepped up to provide lunch and dinners through Sodexo, its food service, she said.
“That was a huge relief,” Pinkham said.
Pinkham reached out to Lisa Park Laflin, executive director of the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area to see what they could do, Alexander, 38, said.
The pair became the point of contact for about a dozen displaced families.
Pinkham and Alexander made a plan on the first Friday following the tragedy, going into the weekend.
They ensured everybody had gift cards for a meal, and clothing vouchers from Touch of Class in Farmington were available.
The two initially used their own money to buy the cards and vouchers but were later reimbursed.
“We felt it was the right thing to do,” Pinkham said.
“It gave us purpose,” Alexander said. “We were in a spot where we were a little lost with everything that was going on. It gave us something to focus on while our friends were in the hospital and our husbands were working around the clock at the Fire Rescue Department.
“We are fortunate our husbands are self-employed and our employer was a generous supporter of our initiative,” she said.
Over the first weekend, people had asked about helping the displaced families.
“We touched base with every single family to see how they were making out and to find out what we could do for them,” Pinkham said. “We introduced ourselves and told them we were reaching out on behalf of the fire department. With that we were able to address immediate needs. It could have been us in their shoes and we knew doing a little something was better than doing nothing at all.”
Alexander and Pinkham divided the tasks, and each had contacts to reach out to.
It was a contributory effort with the United Way, Franklin County Emergency Management Agency, LEAP and the town of Farmington.
The women brought the right people together to collaboratively provide people who lost their homes with a list of resources, property managers and rental contacts in the area. They also helped them find homes and services. Pinkham even temporarily housed two cats for one family. They collected donations, organized cleaning and painting of new housing, and planned for firefighters and LEAP employees to help people move.
“We wanted to help them get into a living situation which was as good or better than they were in before the explosion, before they lost their homes,” Pinkham said.
“Through all of this we have learned a ton, but one of the biggest lessons has been that in a time of crisis it is imperative to find a way to make everybody feel important, valued and appreciated. Helping quickly becomes therapeutic. We believe our community is going to be stronger because of this,” she said.
©2019 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)