The Maine Fuel Board reprimanded and suspended the license of a CN Brown technician who failed to perform a required leak check when refilling the propane tank at the Farmington LEAP office last September, leading to a fatal explosion that claimed the life of Farmington Fire Captain Michael Bell, seriously injured several other firefighters and left Jay resident and LEAP property maintenance manager Larry Lord fighting for his life.
A break in the gas line occurred on September 10, 2019 when Techno Metal Post Maine drilled a post through pavement outside the LEAP building without first checking for underground utility lines as mandated by law. The resulting rupture allowed fuel in the propane tank to escape over the next two days.
On the evening of September 12 LEAP employees discovered that the building had no hot water, which was fueled by propane gas. When he learned of the interruption in hot water service the following morning, Mr. Lord and his assistant checked the propane tank’s fuel gauge. Finding the tank empty, Mr. Lord called CN Brown, the building’s fuel provider, to report the interruption of hot water service and that the tank was empty. In response, CN Brown dispatched a technician to the LEAP office. This information was relayed to him.
Because of the interruption of service, CN Brown’s technician was required by law to perform a “pressure leak check” on the propane system. The leak check takes only a few minutes, but the technician did not perform one. He originally told investigators that no leak test was required because, he claimed, the tank still had fuel in it when he arrived. After filling the tank with nearly 400 gallons of liquid propane, its fill capacity, the CN Brown technician left without completing the leak check. As a result, the gas line rupture initially caused by Techno Metal Post Maine went undetected, and combustible gas vapors from the newly refilled tank continued to leak out and infiltrate the LEAP building over the weekend.
When LEAP employees reported for work on Monday morning, the gas vapors in the building were detected and the building evacuated. Just moments later the building exploded with firefighters and Mr. Lord in it. Had the technician done the required test, the leak would have been detected and the tragic explosion three days later averted.
In reaching a Consent Agreement with the Maine Fuel Board, CN Brown’s technician admitted that LEAP had reported an interruption in service and that the tank was empty, and requested that the tank be refilled. He also admitted that he did not perform a leak check. As part of the Consent Agreement, the technician admitted that there was sufficient evidence that the Board could find that he violated the law. The Maine Fuel Board fined and reprimanded the CN Brown technician and suspended his license.
The Maine Fuel Board operates within the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation and was established to oversee and protect the public, including through the regulation of propane and natural gas in Maine. The primary responsibilities of the Board are to examine and license qualified applicants for licensure and to establish and maintain required board standards for the public safety.
The Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office is expected to issue a report on its investigation into the explosion shortly. The focus of attention will then shift to the civil courts where attorneys for the victims will seek compensation for the victims.
“Because of the extreme dangers associated with propane leaks, thousands of Maine lives depend on gas companies and their employees to follow the letter of the law,” said Berman & Simmons attorney Steven Silin who represents Mr. Lord. “Sadly, that was not done in this case, with consequences that were tragic.”
Walt McKee of McKee Law represents the injured firefighters and the family of Captain Michael Bell who died in the explosion.