FARMINGTON — The one-year anniversary of a deadly, propane explosion that shocked townspeople and changed many lives on Sept. 16, 2019, will be observed Wednesday.
People will be able to drive by at about 10 a.m. and see a static display, memorial set up at the former Leap Enrichment Advancing People building site at 313 Farmington Falls Road. People are asked to stay in their vehicles to see the memorial that will include a wreath, fire apparatus and banners.
“The Town of Farmington, including all of the emergency response and public safety entities, wanted to provide some way for everyone to participate in remembering this event, and to honor and recognize the sacrifice that Captain (Michael) Bell made on September 16, 2019. This year, due to COVID restrictions, a large organized event is simply not possible,” according to Capt. Robb Couture, public information officer for the South Portland Fire Department who is helping with the event.
Bell, 68, died at the scene and six other firefighters and a LEAP maintenance worker were either seriously or critically injured. All firefighters including Bell’s brother, Chief Terry Bell, are back at work while LEAP employee Larry Lord, who was critically injured, is still recovering from his injuries. About 30 people who lived behind LEAP in mobile homes also lost their places to live. A business and a few houses in the area were also damaged.
All that remains at the site is a vacant, lined parking lot with the entry and exit on Farmington Falls Road blocked off with raised-bed flowers and flower pots. A shed sits to the right of the lot.
Bell’s younger brother, Ron Bell of Farmington, recently posted on his Facebook page about the tragedy that changed his life.
“We are coming up on the first anniversary of the day that changed my life, as well as many others’ lives,” he wrote. “It’s the day of the LEAP building explosion, the day my brother, Captain Mike Bell was killed along with severely injuring my other brother, Fire Chief Terry Bell, as well as Deputy Chief Clyde Ross, Captain Scott Baxter, Captain TD Hardy, firefighters Ted Baxter and Joe Hastings and maintenance man Larry Lord. Although it was a tragic day for all involved, there was some good that I saw and how it brought our town, county and state together in so many ways,” Ron Bell wrote.
“The things I will always remember were how many people lined the streets and roads including UMF students, as well as all the businesses to welcome my brother home to his final resting place. And then every time another firefighter was released from the hospital people would line the roads from Portland to Farmington to welcome them home and show their support. The 80 fire departments that came and covered our fire department until our department could heal and return to work. All the support from local businesses and residents that donated meals every day at the fire station, the wives of many of the firefighters that were there to help organize and offer support in any way they could. To my family and friends, I will never forget any of you and I can’t say enough, but thank you so much for making that day, and this past year, somewhat bearable.” he wrote.