Farmington firefighters salute Saturday during a ceremony at the firefighters memorial in Augusta’s Capitol Park. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — For Leslie Michaud of Manchester, the weeks following the Farmington propane explosion have been emotional.

Her son’s youngest brother is firefighter Joseph Hastings, 24, one of six Farmington firefighters who were seriously injured in the explosion that killed Farmington Fire Capt. Michael Bell.

“It is in the family,” said Michaud, who grew up in Farmington.

Michaud’s son, whom she did not name, became a firefighter at age 16, more than 25 years ago, and is now an assistant chief in another Maine town.

Michaud and her grandchildren gathered along with other family members and the public Saturday for an annual observance near the Firefighters’ Memorial in Capital Park.

This year’s Maine Firefighters Memorial Service held heavy significance, coming just 20 days after the fatal Sept. 16 explosion.


Larry Desmond, who is retired from the Winslow Fire Department, said he started to shake when he learned about the Farmington explosion.

He said he knew Bell as an acquaintance, and felt for the Farmington department.

“Once it’s in your blood, it doesn’t leave,” Desmond said.

During his 42-year volunteer career, Desmond had been in one explosion.

“We were outside the building,” he said. “We got blown down to the ground, but we did not get hurt. The concussion got us.”

Along with Bell, two other firefighters who died in the line of service were remembered Saturday: Capt. Joel Barnes of Berwick Fire and Oxford fire Chief Gary Sacco.


Barnes, 32, of Shapleigh, died fighting an apartment building fire on Bell Street in Berwick on March 1 when he and another firefighter became trapped in a third-floor room.

Shortly after attending Barne’s funeral, Sacco, 63, suffered a fatal medical event March 10 in Portland.

“Firefighters are the kind that run toward danger, and most of the time, it results in saving lives,” said Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Albion.

But it sometimes results in the loss of a firefighter, he said, and since 1921, 30 Maine firefighters have died in the line of duty.

State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas challenged firefighters to work in their communities for risk reduction. He said that the “very dynamics of fire science has changed” with the introduction of new and different materials in home construction.

In 1973, when Thomas entered the fire service, he said flashover – violent growth of fire extending from floor to ceiling – occurred after 18 minutes in a building. Now it occurs at three to four minutes. Flashover is caused when heat radiating down from the ceiling ignites combustible material below and airborne gases that material releases.

“We need to do more to get more of us active,” Liberty fire chief and Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association Sgt. at Arms Bill Gillespie said about the decline in volunteer firefighters.

“We need to figure out a strategy that makes things better for us in the future because it would be devastating on our communities,” he said.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus in the U.S. Senate, said that she supports a bill that would allow communities to offer a retirement benefit in hopes of addressing Maine’s volunteer firefighter shortage.

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