FARMINGTON — The Maine Fuel Board fined and suspended the license of a propane and natural gas technician for not checking for leaks after filling a propane tank at the Life Enrichment Advancing People Inc. building on Sept. 13, 2019, three days before a fatal explosion there.

George Barker entered into a consent agreement June 9 with the board and the Office of the Maine Attorney General.

C.N. Brown Inc. of South Paris sent Barker, who worked in the company’s Farmington office, to fill a propane tank at the LEAP building at 313 Farmington Falls Road. A customer there reported it was out of fuel and had no hot water, and requested the propane tank be refilled. Barker refilled it but did not check the piping system for leaks, according to the consent agreement.

Barker violated a board rule that requires a piping system be checked for leaks immediately after the gas is turned on to a new system or to a system that has been restored after an interruption of service. Where leaks are indicated, the gas supply shall be shut off until the necessary repairs have been made, according to the rule.

Barker agreed to pay a civil penalty of $1,300. His license was suspended for 15 days, from May 7 to 22, according to state records.

A representative of C.N. Brown was not immediately available for comment about Barker’s employment.

On Friday, Sept. 13, LEAP Inc. maintenance supervisor Larry Lord discovered that the propane tank was empty. The propane supplier, C.N. Brown, was called, and the tank was filled just after noon that day, according to investigators.

Three days later Lord ushered a dozen employees out of the LEAP building after another maintenance worker became dizzy. The worker and Lord discovered the propane tank was empty again.

Farmington Fire Rescue Department arrived at the site at 8:13 a.m. and joined Lord in the basement looking for the source of the propane leak while some firefighters went elsewhere in the building to make sure it was vacant. Minutes later, an explosion destroyed the building, killed one firefighter and injured several others.

Following a monthslong investigation, the Office of the State Fire Marshal issued a statement in January revealing the deadly explosion occurred days after an underground propane line was severed during the installation of one of four bollards. The bollards had been drilled into the ground on Sept. 10, 2019, near the building by an employee of Techno Metal Post Maine in Manchester.

The posts were installed to protect an outside air conditioning unit next to the building. The propane line was buried about 2½ to 3 feet under the parking lot and connected the propane tank behind the property to the building through the basement wall at the rear corner. The parking lot had been paved after installation of the propane line last summer.

The Occupational and Safety Administration fined Techno post $4,038 and LEAP in the amount of $12,145 for violations of health and safety regulations. Both businesses “failed to ensure that a competent person inspected the job site to determine the location of underground hazards prior to allowing the ground to be penetrated and installing bollards,” according to the OSHA citation. LEAP has paid its fine. Techno’s case is still open. Michael Brochu, owner of the company, paid a $1,000 fine issued by the Maine Public Utilities Commissioner earlier this year.

OSHA did not assess C.N. Brown and Cornerstone Plumbing & Heating with violations in its review related to OSHA standards. Its mission is to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance, according to its website.

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