Farmington Fire Chief Terry Bell

Deputy Chief S. Clyde Ross

Capt. Scott Baxter

Capt. TD Hardy

Firefighter Ted Baxter

Firefighter Joe Hastings

LEAP maintenance supervisor Larry Lord

And, of course, Capt. Mike Bell.

On Monday, each of these men went to work doing what they love, in a community they dearly love.

Each of them exhibiting the uncommon strength of will it takes to confront danger to help another person.

The willingness of each man to put himself at great personal risk deserves our gratitude, our respect, our thanks and our unending support for these men and for their families. They deserve all that, and more, for their willingness to give us their all.

Theirs is a brotherhood in career, committed to keeping each other alive and safe.

For many of the men in this hard-working professional fire department, the brotherhood is more real than that. Some are actual brothers — the Bells — while the Baxters are father and son, as are TD Hardy and his father, Acting Fire Chief Tim Hardy, who was not present at the explosion. These are men who live in Farmington, some raising families, all celebrating the milestones of their lives and supporting their neighbors. And, painfully, recently witnessing the death of one of their own.

Early in the day Monday, Lord was quick to recognize the danger of a possible propane leak at the newly renovated LEAP building and worked quickly to get every single employee safely out of the two-story structure.

Then, he stayed to assist firefighters who arrived to investigate. They faced it together, and they fell together when the building exploded, disintegrating in a massive cloud of smoke and debris.

Mike Bell lost his life in the explosion.

The blast was so extreme, it damaged nearby homes and left 30 people searching for a new place to live.

Lord is currently a patient at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he is expected to remain for months recovering from his injuries.

Terry Bell, and the Baxters were all severely injured and hospitalized at Maine Medical Center.

Hastings was released from the hospital on Wednesday, where he was treated for burns. Hardy was released Thursday, and Ross was treated and released from the hospital earlier in the week.

Firefighting is a dangerous profession that carries extreme personal risk. No call is safe, no movement without hidden danger. 

Occupational risk is real and, while certain occupations carry greater risk of injury and death, no one could say with any certainty that they will always be safe at work.

For firefighters, injury is an absolute certainty. So is death.

The National Fire Protection Association has tracked firefighter injuries and deaths in this country since 1977, and not a single year has passed without significant loss of life. 

Last year, 64 firefighters died on the job from exposure to fire, smoke inhalation, being crushed in a structural collapse, falling, getting trapped underwater during a rescue attempt, being struck by a vehicle or involved in a car crash, and from cardiac arrest or other sudden death caused by overexertion.

Of those, 25 were career firefighters like the men in Farmington. Another 34 were volunteers, and the remainder were non-municipal employees, like forestry agents.

In 2017, there were 60 firefighter deaths. In 2016, 69 deaths. The year before that, 68.

In a span of just over four decades, more than 4,600 firefighters have died protecting our communities, including 340 firefighters who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

It is tough duty for all the men and women who climb aboard a fire truck, and it is tough duty for their families and friends to worry, to support them when they’re exhausted or injured, and to mourn those who die.

In Farmington, an entire community is mourning the death of 68-year-old native son Mike Bell. A man who gave 30 years of dedicated service to his department, and gave his life for his community.

His courage, and that of his brothers — including Lord — must not be forgotten.

In honoring them, we honor the commitment of all emergency workers who keep our communities safe for us, often at their own peril.

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