FARMINGTON – Firefighters from Maine and across the nation and residents are mourning the death of 30-year veteran firefighter Capt. Michael Bell.
They grieve as fire investigators work to determine the cause of the massive Monday morning explosion that killed him, injured others and ripped apart a non-profit agency that helps people with disabilities.
“The community is praying hard,” said Pam Nichols, owner of Country Primitive Decor. “It’s a tight-knit community. Everyone knows everyone. Everyone is affected by our loss and for the firefighters fighting for their lives as well as the custodian who was burned badly. Our thoughts and prayers go out to him as well.”
Acting Fire Chief Tim Hardy, whose son is amongst the injured, said, “We will recover from this. We will eventually be back to full staff. This is going to take some time.”
Larry Lord, a maintenance manager for the Life Enrichment Advancing People or L.E.A.P. agency smelled gas and called firefighters to investigate, and then evacuated the building.
“He was responsible for evacuating at least a dozen or so employees and without his quick actions, it would have been a much more horrific tragedy,” said Police Chief Jack Peck Jr., of the Farmington Police Department.
As members of the fire department went into the basement with Lord, the explosion happened killing Capt. Mike Bell, and injuring Lord, Fire Chief Terry Bell, Capt. Scott Baxter, firefighter Teddy Baxter, Capt. Timothy Hardy, and firefighter Joseph Hastings. It also completely leveled the two-story structure.
Insulation from the building lays on the ground like snow.
Bell’s body was escorted from the medical examiner’s office in Augusta to a Farmington funeral home, located next to the station.
“Everybody is just devastated, devastated,” said Jennifer Hancock, a longtime hair cutter at Dick’s Barber Shop. “Not only for what happened to the people, but you have 30 people with no homes, no cars. It’s pretty scary.”
“That’s what we do in times like this – pull together, and do what we need to to be a family,” Nichols said.