Settlement reached in case of explosion that killed captain, injured 6 FFs

The Farmington, Maine, firefighters and Capt. Michael Bell's estate had filed a lawsuit against two companies linked to the 2019 LEAP building explosion


Donna M. Perry
Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine

FARMINGTON, Maine — All claims have been settled in a civil lawsuit filed last year against two companies on behalf of the estate of Capt. Michael Bell and six firefighters, who were involved in a propane explosion at a LEAP building on Sept. 16, 2019, according to attorney Walter McKee of McKee Law in Augusta.

Bell, 68, was killed in the explosion and six firefighters were injured.

In this October 2004 photo provided by the Farmington Fire Rescue Department, Capt. Michael Bell of the Farmington, Maine, Fire Department, poses for a department photo. Bell, 68, was killed in a propane blast on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, that flattened a building and damaged 11 nearby mobile homes.
In this October 2004 photo provided by the Farmington Fire Rescue Department, Capt. Michael Bell of the Farmington, Maine, Fire Department, poses for a department photo. Bell, 68, was killed in a propane blast on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, that flattened a building and damaged 11 nearby mobile homes. (Photo/J.P. Fortier/Farmington Fire Rescue Dept. via AP)

A separate civil suit filed by attorneys for Larry Lord of Jay, who was critically injured in the explosion, and his wife, Sandra, was settled in May, according to their attorney, Steve Silin, of Berman & Simmons of Lewiston.

A document filed by McKee and put on the docket Monday at Franklin County Superior Court states the case related to the Farmington firefighters was settled through an agreement among the parties that the case is dismissed permanently and cannot be brought back to court.

McKee filed the lawsuit on Oct. 20, 2020, on behalf of Diana Bell, personal representative of Bell's estate, his brother, Fire Chief Terry Bell, Capt. Scott Baxter, Deputy Fire Chief S. Clyde Ross, Capt. Tim "TD" Hardy, Lt. Joseph Hastings, and Baxter's father, firefighter Theodore Baxter. They were either seriously or critically injured in the explosion.

The suit claimed negligence by C.N. Brown Co. of South Paris and Techno Metal Post Maine of Manchester. Life Enrichment Advancing People Inc., or LEAP, a third-party defendant, was added to the lawsuit after it was filed.

Larry Lord was credited with getting all the LEAP employees out of the building before the explosion. He was burned over 85% of his body, according to his attorneys.

"After a long and difficult process we are pleased to have successfully settled the case on behalf (of) the Lord family back in May. It has been a privilege representing these wonderful members of our Maine community and we ask everyone to respect their clear wish that no further attention be drawn to them as they endeavor to get on with their lives," according to an email from Silin.

McKee confirmed by email that the firefighters' cases have been resolved.

In an image from video, a flag-draped body is moved to a coroner's vehicle at the scene of an explosion, Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, in Farmington, Maine. Officials say a town's fire chief is among the injured in a propane explosion that killed a firefighter. State public safety spokesman Steve McCausland said after Monday morning's explosion at a nonprofit center in Farmington that multiple people remain hospitalized. 
In an image from video, a flag-draped body is moved to a coroner's vehicle at the scene of an explosion, Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, in Farmington, Maine. Officials say a town's fire chief is among the injured in a propane explosion that killed a firefighter. State public safety spokesman Steve McCausland said after Monday morning's explosion at a nonprofit center in Farmington that multiple people remain hospitalized.  (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

"The claims were settled. That's all I can say," he said.

Both lawsuits claimed that C.N. Brown and Techno Metal Post Maine were "directly and vicariously negligent" through their employees.

According to findings of state fire investigators, the explosion was caused after an underground propane line was severed by one of four bollards the Manchester company drilled into the ground near the LEAP building on Farmington Falls Road, which is Routes 2 and 27.

The Office of State Fire Marshal report concluded the propane leaked from the severed line underground and led to the explosion that leveled the LEAP building. Investigators said the source of ignition could not be determined, but possible sources included disruption of electricity, a light switch, a furnace or static.

The explosion heavily damaged mobile homes behind the LEAP building.

Techno Metal Post was cited by the Maine Public Utilities Commission and fined by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration for failing to follow Dig Safe regulations before installing four bollards near the building to protect an air conditioner Sept. 10, 2019. One of those bollards severed an underground propane line, which allowed propane to get into the building, according to the lawsuits.

The Maine Fuel Board cited a C.N. Brown technician for not following a board rule that requires a piping system be checked for leaks immediately after the gas is turned on to a new system or to a system that has been restored after an interruption of service.

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(c)2021 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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