FARMINGTON — State and federal investigators said Tuesday that they have begun the slow, methodical process required to pinpoint the cause of an explosion that killed a firefighter and injured six firefighters and a maintenance supervisor at a recently constructed building.

Firefighters responded to a report of an odor of propane at the building at 313 Farmington Falls Road, which is Route 2, at 8:07 a.m. Monday. Right after firefighters arrived, the two-story structure exploded, killing Capt. Michael Bell, a 30-year member of the Farmington Fire Rescue Department.

The blast leveled the building that housed LEAP – a nonprofit that serves people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities – damaged or destroyed more than a dozen nearby homes, and blanketed the surrounding area with insulation, paper and shredded lumber.

During a news conference Tuesday, Sgt. Ken Grimes of the state Fire Marshal’s Office said state fire officials and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators are hoping to have answers this week to what caused the explosion.

“It is a slow, methodical process,” he said.

Grimes confirmed that a white firefighter’s helmet recovered from the debris belonged to Bell, who was 68. His brother, Fire Chief Terry Bell, 62, was among the injured.

Five of the injured firefighters were being treated at Maine Medical Center on Tuesday. Terry Bell, Capt. Scott Baxter and his father, firefighter Theodore Baxter, were listed in critical condition Tuesday night, the hospital said. Firefighter Joseph Hastings and Capt. Timothy Hardy, the son of acting Fire Chief Tim Hardy, were upgraded from fair to satisfactory condition.

Deputy Fire Chief Clyde Ross was treated and released from Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington on Monday.

Investigators retrieve the helmet of Fire Capt. Michael Bell from the rubble at 313 Farmington Falls Road in Farmington on Tuesday. Bell, 68, was killed in Monday’s propane explosion at the LEAP building. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Larry Lord, 60, of Jay, the maintenance worker for LEAP who is credited with saving lives by evacuating building, is being treated at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston for burns over 50 percent of his body, broken bones, multiple traumas and other critical injuries, according to a GoFundMe account set up to help the family.

As of 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, $52,886 of a $75,000 goal to help the Lord family had been raised.

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, Farmington Police Chief Jack Peck said Tuesday.

FARMINGTON HONORS FALLEN FIREFIGHTER

“Without his quick actions, I think it would’ve been a much more horrific tragedy,” Peck said.

Lisa Charles, who worked with LEAP but was not there at the time of the blast, said her colleagues told her that they were taken to a safe area, but that Lord went back inside with firefighters before the blast occurred.

Lord’s niece, Sammi Richard, told News Center Maine (WCSH/WBLZ) that her uncle is “the most compassionate and caring man you’ll ever meet. He has a heart of gold and would do anything for anyone.”

“He is the best uncle. You can go to him for help with anything you need, from a science project to a problem with your car.”

Lord’s brother-in-law, Kevin Richard, is with Lord and other family members at Mass General in Boston.

Richard told the TV station that while the family greatly appreciates the prayers and messages of support, they’re asking for privacy during this difficult time.

HONORING THE FALLEN

Firefighters, police officers, emergency medical responders and many others paid their respects to Michael Bell on Tuesday by lining several streets as a procession of vehicles, including the hearse carrying Bell’s body, traveled from the state Medical Examiner’s Office to Wiles Remembrance Center on Route 2.

Emergency responders lined up across from the center and saluted as the procession passed and entered the parking lot. The procession went under the Jay and Wilton Fire departments’ ladder trucks, which had a large American flag hanging from the top of the ladders.

The University of Maine at Farmington canceled classes until noon. Many businesses also closed out of respect and to watch the procession.

“Last evening’s candlelight vigils and today’s memorial procession for Farmington Fire Capt. Michael Bell are a moving testament to the profound sense of sorrow and grief many in our community are now experiencing,” UMF President Edward Serna wrote in a statement.

Linda Brown of Farmington waited Tuesday on the side of Route 2 for the procession to pass.

“How can you top it off?'” she said. (Michael Bell) was just an awesome guy. How else can you put it?”

Brown said her husband has been on the Farmington Fire Department for years. Bell was her neighbor and she went to school with him and his wife, Diana.

University of Maine students react as the procession honoring Farmington firefighter Michael Bell passes through campus Tuesday. Bell was killed in a building explosion Monday. Students reported being awakened by the sound of the explosion. Morning classes at the university were canceled in the wake of the tragedy. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Donald Simoneau of Fayette said he is a good friend of Lord’s, the LEAP maintenance worker.

“Larry and I did hunter safety courses for years,” he said. “It is just so unfair.”

Simoneau said Lord has had a rough few years, including the loss of his college-aged son in 2011.

Firetrucks and firefighters from as far away as Norway and Scarborough joined the procession. Fire departments from around the state are covering Farmington’s station, and firefighters are standing guard outside the remembrance center.

Officials have seen an outpouring of support from the community to meet the needs of first responders, Town Manager Richard Davis said.

Davis said support can be shown through the Farmington Firemen’s Benevolent Association. There will be a link to it soon on the town’s website: www.farmington-maine.org.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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