Fallen ME Firefighter’s Daughter: Severed Propane Line Led to Fatal Blast

Emergency vehicles are at the scene of a deadly propane explosion, Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, which leveled new construction in Farmington, Maine. (Jacob Gage via AP)

Emergency vehicles are at the scene of a deadly propane explosion, Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, which leveled new construction in Farmington, Maine. (Jacob Gage via AP)

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A propane explosion that killed a firefighter and injured six of his colleagues and another person last year in Maine was caused by a post that was placed in the ground to protect an exterior heating unit, severing an underground gas line, according to testimony at a recent legislative hearing.

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Danielle Bell Flannery spoke to a committee Tuesday about the September blast in Farmington that killed her father, firefighter Capt. Michael Bell, as part of a public hearing regarding a proposed modification to the state’s “dig safe” law.

The blast injured seven others, including six firefighters. One man remains in the hospital and was in fair condition this week, the Sun Journal reported.

The explanation by Flannery came ahead of the official release of findings, expected Thursday, from the state fire marshal’s office and was confirmed by a lawmaker who sits on the board of LEAP Inc., the nonprofit that occupied the newly renovated building that was leveled in the explosion.

Dig Safe Laws prohibit digging around certain underground utility lines. In Maine, liquefied propane gas lines are not covered, according to a statement from Rep. Seth Berry, who submitted the proposal.

“If it was an electric line, a water line or even a sewer line, the contractor would have been required to contact Dig Safe, and this tragedy would have been prevented,” Rep. H. Scott Landry Jr., one of the bills co-sponsors, testified.

Investigators previously concluded the entirety of a 400-gallon propane tank had emptied because of a gas line leak, with much of the fuel entering the building’s basement.

The explosion, which could be heard from miles away, shattered the building and left the scene littered with dust and paper. Nearby mobile homes were rendered uninhabitable.

Maine State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas, the Maine Public Utilities Commission and others testified in support of the bill, which failed twice before because of lobbying, Landry said.

The head of the Propane Gas Association of New England, Leslie Anderson, testified in writing that Maine businesses shouldn’t be subjected to unnecessary rules and regulatory costs and that trainings are held throughout the state to educate excavators on how to avoid propane lines.

Propane systems are unique and safer than other items covered under the Dig Safe law, said Mark Anderson, a safety manager with Dead River Co., adding that the new measure doesn’t necessarily protect public safety.

An investigation by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration remains open.

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