NIOSH issues new report on 2019 Maine propane explosion that injured 6 FFs

Interim Fire Rescue Chief Tim "TD" Hardy said the report is part of a series of evaluations meant to prevent similar incidents


Steve Collins and Donna M. Perry
Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine

FARMINGTON, Maine — A new report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health adds little to what's already known about the 2019 propane explosion in Farmington that killed a 68-year-old captain and injured six firefighters.

The 71-page report's recommendations, which suggest the emergency responders to the initial report of leaking gas should have taken a more defensive stance from the start, have long since been implemented by the Farmington Fire Rescue Department.

The 71-page report's recommendations, which suggest the emergency responders to the initial report of leaking gas should have taken a more defensive stance from the start, have long since been implemented by the Farmington Fire Rescue Department.
The 71-page report's recommendations, which suggest the emergency responders to the initial report of leaking gas should have taken a more defensive stance from the start, have long since been implemented by the Farmington Fire Rescue Department. (Photo/Farmington Fire Department)

But the report is aimed at a much larger audience of emergency personnel who may not be familiar with what happened when a propane blast leveled LEAP Inc.'s building at 313 Farmington Falls Road.

Interim Fire Rescue Chief Tim "TD" Hardy said Thursday that the report, issued by a division of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is part of a series of evaluations meant "to prevent something like that from happening again."

Hardy, who was injured by the explosion, said he hopes others will learn from the experience in Farmington.

"We have been taking the recommendations seriously," he said, and implementing them during the two years the department has voluntarily worked with the institute to detail what occurred.

The explosion occurred as firefighters arrived on the scene after learning of a suspected gas leak. The blast occurred just 30 seconds after the first responders reached the gas-filled basement of the small office building, which had already been evacuated.

Federal investigators made a few recommendations that departments should follow when they respond to an incident involving hazardous materials, such as the propane that leaked into the ground after a bollard erected in LEAP's parking lot severed a propane line into its building.

The report said fire departments ought to "establish isolation zones and ensure a continuous risk assessment is conducted throughout the incident" as well as sizing up the scene quickly and making an initial assessment of the danger.

"Fire departments should ensure incident commanders initiate a defensive strategy," the report suggested, and develop a plan for dealing with materials, revising it as efforts are made to mitigate the risk.

It also called for more training, especially to make sure responders "understand the scrubbing or odorant fade" of the chemical put in propane to give it a distinctive smell, which is harder to detect when walls and other obstacles are in the way.

The report said, too, that training should include "the use of multi-gas detectors to determine if a potentially explosive atmosphere is present."

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(c)2022 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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