Companies fined in connection to blast that killed Maine fire captain

The two companies will pay a total of about $16,000 for safety violations prior to the 2019 explosion that killed Capt. Michael Bell


Judith Meyer
Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine

FARMINGTON, Maine — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has levied fines against Life Enrichment Advancing People in Farmington and Techno Metal Post in Manchester in connection with a propane explosion that leveled the LEAP building in September, killing Farmington Fire Capt. Michael Bell and injuring seven others.

The fines were each issued after OSHA completed separate investigations into the actions of those companies prior to the explosion, both of which had done work at the building.

A firefighter walks through the scene of the LEAP building explosion that killed Farmington Fire Capt. Michael Bell and injured seven others on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, in Farmington, Maine. Two companies have been fined for safety violations in connection with the deadly blast. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
A firefighter walks through the scene of the LEAP building explosion that killed Farmington Fire Capt. Michael Bell and injured seven others on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, in Farmington, Maine. Two companies have been fined for safety violations in connection with the deadly blast. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

The fine against LEAP, in the amount of $12,145, is for violations of health and safety regulations. Specifically, LEAP “failed to ensure that a competent person inspected the job site to determine the location of underground hazards prior to allowing the ground to be penetrated and installing bollards,” according to the OSHA citation.

The fine against Techno Metal Post, in the amount of $4,038, was issued for the same violation.

The companies each have until April 17 to either contest the citations or pay the fines.

In January, Techno Metal Post was fined $1,000 by the Public Utilities Commission for violating the Dig Safe law that required the company to call before doing any excavation and for failure to properly premark the area of proposed excavation near a recently installed 400-gallon propane tank.

According to the PUC investigation, Michael Brochu, owner of Techno Post, installed three bollards at LEAP’s site Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. That installation met the definition of “excavation” contained in the PUC rules on underground facility damage prevention requirements. The company was fined $500 for each violation, and has since filed an appeal.

Separate OSHA investigations into CN Brown, the South Paris-based company that filled the propane tank at the LEAP building, and Cornerstone, the electrical and heating company that worked on the building before the explosion, remain open.

Following a monthslong investigation, the Office of the State Fire Marshal issued a statement in January revealing the deadly explosion ignited days after an underground propane line was severed during the installation of one of four bollards that had been drilled into the ground near the building by an employee of Techno Metal Post.

The posts were installed to protect an outside air conditioning unit next to the building. The propane line was buried about 2½ to 3 feet under the parking lot and connected the propane tank behind the property to the building through the basement wall at the rear corner. The parking lot had been paved after installation of the propane line last summer. The metal bollards are about 4 inches thick, but each has an auger head which is 10½ inches wide that allows the post to be drilled into the ground. It was the auger head that severed the propane line encased in a plastic protective sleeve.

On Friday, Sept. 13, LEAP Inc. maintenance supervisor Larry Lord discovered that the propane tank was empty. The propane supplier to the building — C.N. Brown — was called, and the tank was filled just after noon that day, according to investigators.

The next Monday morning, a maintenance worker felt dizzy after being in the building a short time. He and Lord discovered that the propane tank was empty again. Lord called the Fire Department, opened windows and doors, and told the staff to leave. The Fire Department arrived at 8:13 a.m. and joined Lord in the basement looking for the source of the propane leak while some firefighters went elsewhere in the building to make sure it was vacant.

The building exploded at 8:28 a.m., just 15 minutes after firefighters arrived.

While investigators concluded the propane leaking from the severed line led to the explosion, they were not able to pinpoint the cause of ignition.

Farmington Fire Rescue Capt. Bell died in the blast. Seven others were seriously or critically injured, including six firefighters and Lord, 62, of Jay.

This week, Lord was honored by the American Red Cross as a “hero” for his actions to clear the building of employees and call for emergency help minutes before the building exploded.

Lord was critically burned in the explosion. In late February, after more than five months in the hospital, he was transferred from Massachusetts General Hospital to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, according to his family.

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©2020 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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