Maine town faces $22K in fines for lack of training, equipment in blast that killed fire captain

The Maine Department of Labor found that firefighters who went to investigate an initial propane leak did not have SCBAs or sufficient hazmat training


Caitlin Andrews
Bangor Daily News, Maine

AUGUSTA, Maine — The town of Farmington faces more than $22,000 in fines from the Maine Department of Labor for not ensuring firefighters had the necessary training and equipment when they investigated a reported propane leak that led to a deadly explosion in September.

The preliminary findings from the state, which regulates workplace safety for public entities, are the most severe penalties since the explosion caused by a severed gas line that leveled the nonprofit LEAP Inc., killed Farmington fire Capt. Michael Bell, injured seven other people and destroyed nearby homes and scattered debris for more than a mile.

Firefighters looks through debris at the scene of an explosion Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, in Farmington, Maine. The town of Farmington faces $22,000 in fines from the Maine Department of Labor, which says firefighters who went to investigate an initial gas leak at the site did not have proper training or equipment. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Firefighters looks through debris at the scene of an explosion Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, in Farmington, Maine. The town of Farmington faces $22,000 in fines from the Maine Department of Labor, which says firefighters who went to investigate an initial gas leak at the site did not have proper training or equipment. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

The findings from the labor department cover eight violations touching on firefighter preparedness and investigation procedures. Farmington Town Manager Richard Davis said the town does not dispute the citations and has corrected the violations and plans to ask for lesser fines. A spokesperson for the department said it cannot comment until the report is final.

But Augusta-based lawyer Walter McKee, who is representing the Bell family, Michael Bell’s estate and injured firefighters including Farmington Fire Chief Terry Bell, said in an email that he believes multiple corrections will be made to the report that will remove some violations.

“Most importantly, none of the violations caused any of the damages these firefighters suffered when they put themselves in harm’s way,” McKee wrote.

Two of the violations concerning training were classified as willful and serious, carrying potential fines of $8,500 each. The state found that firefighters “did not don self-contained breathing apparatus” prior to entering the LEAP building, and did not wear gloves, hoods or use chin straps on their helmets. They did not have federally required training on hazardous materials.

The six other violations were rated serious. The state found that the fire department was using uninspected and expired equipment during its investigation of the leak. It also found the department did not use proper incident command procedures, saying “overall management” of the investigation took place inside the building instead of outside.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has already fined LEAP more than $12,000 for a violation of “general safety and health provisions.” It also fined the Manchester company that installed the post piercing the underground propane line more than $4,000 for a similar violation.

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©2020 the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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