Technician who filled propane tank prior to LEAP explosion fined, suspended

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FARMINGTON – A propane and natural gas technician has been fined $1,300 and had his license suspended for 15 days for reportedly failing to perform a leak check on a propane tank three days prior to the Sept. 16, 2019 explosion at the Life Enrichment Advancing People Inc. office building that killed one firefighter and badly injured several other people.

The technician, George Barker, signed a consent agreement with the Maine Fuel Board, part of the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, and Attorney General’s Office. In that agreement, which was finalized on June 9, Barker admitted to not checking the piping system for leakage after refilling the propane tank on Sept. 13, 2019.

According to the state Fire Marshal’s Office investigators The building exploded three days later as a Farmington Fire Rescue team and LEAP maintenance supervisor Larry Lord were investigating a report of a gas smell. One firefighter, Capt. Michael Bell, 68, was killed in the explosion and Lord and several firefighters were injured.

The consent agreement indicates that Barker was employed by CN Brown Energy, who dispatched the technician to 313 Farmington Falls Road on the morning of Sept. 13 after receiving a call regarding an empty tank. According to attorneys representing Lord, LEAP employees reporting to work on the evening of Sept. 12 discovered that the building had no hot water. Lord and another employee learned of the interruption the next morning and checked the building’s propane tank, with Lord then calling CN Brown.

According to the consent agreement signed by Barker and representatives of the Maine Fuel Board and AG’s Office, Barker refilled the tank but did not check the piping system for leaks. That is an alleged violation of a Maine Fuel Board rule adopted from the 2012 National Fuel Gas Code of the National Fire Protection Association, which reads:

Leak Check. Immediately after the gas is turned on into a new system or a into a system that has been initially restored after an interruption of service, the piping system shall be checked for leakage. Where leakage is indicated, the gas supply shall be shut off until the necessary repairs have been made.

According to the Fire Marshal’s Office, the line leading from the tank to the building was severed by the auger head of a bollard – a post used to direct traffic – on Sept. 10. Investigators previously indicated that bollard, one of four installed by Techno Metal Posts of Manchester to protect an external air conditioning unit, was drilled into the paved parking lot and severed the line.

The consent agreement indicates that Barker acknowledged that were the matter to proceed to an administrative hearing before the Maine Fuel Board, the evidence presented could be sufficient to support a finding of a violation of the rule. The agreement includes a civil penalty of $1,300, a reprimand for not performing a leak check and a 15-day suspension of license.

Previous state and federal action relating to the explosion include fines levied against LEAP and Techno Metal Post by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for alleged violations of the general safety and health provisions of the agency’s regulations. Inspections opened by OSHA on CN Brown and another company, Cornerstone Plumbing and Heating, were both closed without any citations. Maine Department of Labor also issued a preliminary report on the explosion as it relates to the town of Farmington, including violations of equipment and training standards.

Attorneys representing Larry Lord have indicated that they intend to file a civil suit that could involve Maine Techno Post and CN Brown. Daniel Kagan and Steven Silin, both of the firm Berman & Simmons, indicated Wednesday that they are in the process of compiling the long-term consequences of the explosion for Lord.

Silin said that Lord, who suffered burns over 85 percent of his body, was dependent upon his wife and home care and that he remained in contact with doctors at Mass General Hospital. Complications relating to his injuries necessitated surgical procedures, Silin said, calling both Lord and his wife, “extraordinary people.”

The explosion occurred because Techno Metal Post had not followed laws relating to excavations around utility lines, Silin said, while the technician employed by CN Brown did not perform the required check that would have discovered the leak.

“They’re both clearly factors,” Kagan said.

Responding to a question from a reporter regarding the fine and suspension included within the consent agreement signed by Barker, Silin noted that the Maine Fuel Board was addressing their own regulations and requirements, not invoking punishment in relation to the explosion itself.

Barker was a former firefighter, Silin said. “I know Mr. Barker felt terrible about what happened,” he said Wednesday.

Silin and Kagan represent Lord, while the family of Bell and firefighters injured in the explosion are being represented by Walter McKee of McKee Law. Silin said that he anticipated that a civil suit filed in relation to the incident would be filed jointly by all of the parties.

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