When firefighters encounter a propane leak, there is no single, statewide protocol for handling the situation. Each fire department comes up with its own procedures.

But hazardous materials training — a 40-hour requirement for all Maine certified firefighters since 2005 — teaches firefighters to follow some guidelines: Shut off or safeguard utilities so no one accidentally creates a dangerous spark by, for example, flipping on a light switch; eliminate the emission source; shut down the tank supplying propane to the building; open windows and use natural ventilation to air out the building rather than an inside fan that could cause a spark; use a meter to measure gas levels and determine when the building is safe to re-enter.

While firefighters don’t have to go through that training if they aren’t seeking certification, full-time and part-time firefighters are generally certified in Maine and would need that hazardous materials training, according to Walter Morris, a training program manager for the Maine Fire Service Institute, the school that certifies firefighters. One of the six Farmington firefighters injured in Monday’s propane explosion, Capt. Timothy “TD” Hardy, teaches at the institute.

Federal and state investigators are still looking for the source of that explosion. The blast leveled a building and killed Capt. Michael Bell, a 30-year member of the Farmington Fire Rescue Department and brother of the department’s chief.

Morris, who serves as fire chief in Jefferson, emphasized that even small amounts of propane can be explosive, making it highly dangerous. Because propane has a large expansion ratio — one gallon of liquid propane can equal 270 gallons of vapor when released in air — even a standard five-gallon tank on a backyard grill can cause an explosion.

“It’s like a block of TNT when it’s loose. I mean, it’s tremendous,” Morris said. “That’s one of the things people have to realize.”


If a resident or employee suspects a propane or natural gas leak, Morris recommended the building be evacuated right away.

“I would say get out. Get out immediately,” Morris said.

And get out without using a phone, light switch or other electrical device that could spark an explosion, he said. Once outside, call 911.

He encouraged people to install propane/natural gas detectors that are similar to smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and can be bought for less than $20.

“My own home is heated by propane,” Morris said, “and I have a propane detector in my basement.”

Comments are not available on this story.