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MDOL preliminary findings include violations, fines tied to Farmington explosion

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First responders at the scene of the Sept. 16, 2019, explosion at 313 Farmington Falls Road. A member of Farmington Fire Rescue was killed in the blast.

FARMINGTON – Preliminary findings issued by the Maine Department of Labor regarding the Sept. 16, 2019 explosion that killed a member of Farmington Fire Rescue include up to $22,000 in potential fines for the town of Farmington, relating to violations of equipment and training standards.

The MDOL enforces occupational safety and health regulations for the public sector, similar to how the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration oversees private businesses. Previously, OSHA issued fines of roughly $12,000 and $4,000 to Life Enrichment Advancing People, Inc. and Techno Metal Post Maine, respectively. LEAP Inc. owned the newly-renovated office building at 313 Farmington Falls Road that was destroyed in the explosion, while Techno Metal Post Maine installed a series of bollards to protect an air conditioning unit a few days prior to the blast. Both were fined under the same provision of the general safety and health regulations relating to “frequent and regular inspections of the job sites, materials, and equipment,” according to the violations. LEAP and Techno Metal Post Maine have until April 17 to either pay or contest the fines.

According to the Bangor Daily News, MDOL’s preliminary report includes eight violations, the most serious of which were findings that firefighters didn’t utilize certain equipment at the scene, including self-contained breathing apparatuses, gloves, hoods or the straps on their helmets as well as the finding that the personnel did not have required federal training regarding hazardous materials. Six other violations were rated “serious,” including the use of uninspected and expired equipment.

Reached Friday, MDOL Communications Manager Jessica Picard noted that following an incident involving death or serious injury in a public workplace, the Bureau of Labor Standards was authorized to investigate causes and require precautions to prevent similar events. The department had six months from an incident to send a report to a town, Picard said in an email, and the town had 15 days following receipt of the report to either request a penalty discussion or formally appeal. If none is received, Picard said, the report would become a final order.

“Since MDOL’s report on the Farmington explosion is not final order yet, we cannot comment or release the document,” Picard wrote.

Town Manager Richard Davis said Thursday in an email that all required training cited in the preliminary report has been completed with the exception of the hazardous materials operation level duties annual training, which isn’t currently available but has been scheduled for later in April.

“All training will continue on an ongoing basis and will be documented as such,” Davis wrote. “I have requested a penalty discussion, and I am hopeful that the penalties can be negotiated to a lower amount.”

“I have every faith and confidence in the Farmington Fire Rescue Department’s ability to meet the Maine Department of Labor requirements and serve the citizens of Farmington in a safe, professional manner,” Davis went on to say. “I will never forget the tragedy that occurred on Sept. 16 of last year, but I will also never forget our department’s outstanding response in its aftermath.”

The Sept. 16, 2019 explosion killed Capt. Michael Bell, 68, a 30-year veteran of the Farmington Fire Rescue department and seriously injured several other firefighters and one employee of LEAP, Inc. The firefighters and the family of Capt. Bell are being represented by attorney Walter McKee of Augusta. In an email sent Thursday, McKee said that he believes that corrections to the MDOL preliminary report will be made.

“This was only the preliminary report which is usually not released,” McKee wrote. “As I understand it there are multiple corrections to the report that are being made and corrective measures that will be implemented.”

“Most importantly, none of the violations caused any of the damages these firefighters suffered when they put themselves in harm’s way,” McKee wrote.

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