FARMINGTON — “Community has a new meaning,” said Capt. Robb Couture, Public Information Officer for the South Portland Fire Department. “The Farmington community is not just Farmington anymore.”

Capt. Michael Bell of the Farmington Fire Rescue Department was killed in an explosion Monday, Sept. 16, at LEAP central office at 313 Farmington Falls Road. Six firefighters and LEAP’s maintenance supervisor, Larry Lord, were also injured while responding to a reported smell of propane at the building, which exploded shortly after the firefighters arrived. An investigation into the explosion is ongoing, but investigators said Friday, Sept. 26, that a leak in a propane line caused the explosion.

A native of Jay, Couture said he is happy to be back home helping where he can.

“The Wednesday after it happened, a bunch of us who grew up here but have since moved away, were right back here at the station,” he said.  “People like Jeff Lake, Ben Guild, James Butler, Mahlon Hansen, Steve Hall, Gerry Pineau.  It was good for the Farmington firefighters to see people they knew. It was good for us since we know everyone here (in the department). We have a dog in this fight.”

Volunteer staff coverage at the station is scheduled for at least the next few weeks. Couture said he imagined it would go on much longer than that.

On Monday morning, Sept. 30, firefighters from Orono were directing traffic during a road closure at the intersection of Fairbanks Road and New Vineyard Road.

Matt Nadeau of the Orono Fire Department directs traffic at an accident scene Monday, Sept. 30. Nadeau was one of four Orono firefighters who volunteered their time for a 12-hour shift at the Farmington Fire Rescue Department Monday. Dee Menear/Franklin Journal

“It is our pleasure to be here doing this for the community,” said Orono firefighter Kevin Sirois.

The firefighters, like many before them and many after them, signed up for a 12-hour volunteer shift at the Farmington Fire Department.

“Everyone is looking for a way to give,” Couture said. “This is not an acute event. It is a far-reaching event that had such an impact that even people who don’t live here want to be involved.”

That involvement is apparent inside the fire station as meal after meal is provided by a rotation of community members, organizations and businesses.

“Usually you might see two or three days of support,” Couture said. “We are going on week three and it’s still coming.”

It is also apparent outside the fire station in continued grassroots fundraising and support efforts.

Jessica Clouser, of Clouser Cakes N’ Bakes, and Robbie Gray, Cushing Stable barn manager, stopped by the fire department on Friday, Sept. 27 with a $250 donation for the Farmington Firemen Benevolent Association and a dozen red velvet cupcakes. The funds, she said, were raised at her booth at the Farmington Fair.

Jessica Clouser, of Clouser Cakes N’ Bakes in Farmington, stopped by the Farmington Fire Rescue Department Friday, Sept. 27 with a dozen red velvet cupcakes and $250 she raised during the Farmington Fair.

“It was very rewarding to walk into the station and be a part of that,” Clouser said. “Everyone can use a little sweetness to brighten up their day and right now the firemen deserve it more than ever. I grew up on Farmington Falls Road, so you can imagine how hard this hit home for me. I am so proud to be a member of this community and I just wanted to help in any way possible.”

Students at the University of Maine at Farmington are helping out, too. The many efforts include a multi-day bake sale to benefit LEAP, fire station support, and 50/50 raffle fundraisers during the annual UMF Fall Fest held Sept. 27-29.

“This tragedy has resonated throughout the campus, the community, Maine and beyond,” said Edward Serna, UMF president. “The sense of loss is immeasurable, but so is the spirit of generosity that is so much a part of the lived experience in Western Maine. It is inspiring to see caring students, staff, town members and Maine citizens all coming together, looking for a way to help. It is a wonderful example of what community here really means.”

On Saturday, Oct 5, United Bikers of Maine in Franklin and Oxford counties will join others from across the state for a ride to support the firefighters and Lord families. The United We Ride event is open to motorcycles and vehicles.

Participants from Franklin and Oxford county are asked to meet at the Mt. Blue Plaza parking lot at 9 a.m. The ride will get underway at 9:30 a.m. and head to the former Knapp’s dealership parking lot on Depot Street in Kingfield. There, they will meet with participants from Somerset, Piscataquis and Kennebec counties before traveling to the White Elephant in Strong for lunch.

Cost to participate is $5 per person and there will be a 50/50 raffle. All proceeds will benefit Lord, and the fallen and injured firefighters.  For more information, contact Vicki Tuttle at 399-4803 or Rick Smith at 320-0443.

“We will be here as they return to business as the usual,” said Couture. “A big part of that is the community supporting volunteers for the next month or two and Farmington is getting a lot of support right now.”

Many more fundraisers are being planned in the area in the coming weeks. Details for some of them are available on the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area Farmington Explosion Assistance Facebook page.

Donations to the Farmington Disaster Relief Fund to help those injured or affected by the explosion, and to the Farmington Firemen Benevolent Association, specifically for Bell’s family, can be made at Franklin Savings Bank, 197 Main St., Farmington, or mailed to the bank at PO Box 825, Farmington, ME 04938.

Donors are asked to specify which account they are donating to. Franklin Savings will match up to $10,000 per each account.

Donations for LEAP can be made through UWTVA at 218 Fairbanks Road, writing a check to UWTVA and labeled LEAP Explosion Fund, or to LEAP at PO Box 126, Farmington, ME 04938.

To help the family of Lord, the LEAP maintenance worker being treated at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, go to gofundme.com/f/support-for-larry-lord.

To help the Baxter families, visit gofundme.com/f/support-for-ted-amp-scott-baxter.


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