FARMINGTON, Maine — A maintenance manager was credited Tuesday with saving lives by evacuating a building before an explosion that gravely injured him, while investigators began examining the rubble to determine the cause and the firefighter who died was saluted.
Larry Lord emptied the building of “at least a dozen or so employees” when the odor of propane gas was detected just minutes before the powerful blast destroyed the building and killed a firefighter, Police Chief Jack Peck said Tuesday.
“Without his quick actions, I think it would’ve been a much more horrific tragedy,” Peck told reporters.
Lisa Charles, who worked with LEAP but was not there at the time of the blast, said she is grateful Lord got her colleagues to safety.
“They got a warning from the maintenance guy,” she said Monday, calling him a hero.
Her colleagues told her that they were taken to a safe area but that Lord went back inside with firefighters before the blast occurred.
In addition to the death of Fire Capt. Michael Bell, Lord and seven other people were injured when Monday’s explosion leveled the two-story building that housed LEAP, a nonprofit that serves people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities.
Investigators from the Maine Fire Marshal’s Office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began digging Tuesday through concrete, wood and debris for clues.
Part of the focus is on propane gas, which either caused the blast or must be ruled out, said Ken Grimes of the marshal’s office.
He predicted the work will take about a week.
Firefighters, paramedics and law enforcement officers paused Tuesday to salute the fallen Bell, who was 68, as his body was returned from the state medical examiner’s office with an escort.
Bell’s brother, Fire Chief Terry Bell, and five other firefighters were also injured, as was an ambulance worker, officials said.
Six people remained hospitalized Tuesday in Portland and Boston, with Lord and three fighters in critical condition, officials said.
Acting Farmington Fire Chief Tim Hardy said his own department and the community will get past the tragedy, but he said it will take time.
“We will recover from this,” he said. “We’ll come together and conquer this together.”
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