Tim Hardy, acting chief of the Farmington Fire Rescue Department, holds at a news conference at the fire station Thursday to thank people for their assistance and support since the deadly propane explosion that killed Capt. Michael Bell and injured six firefighters and a maintenance supervisor at the LEAP central office building Sept. 16. Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

FARMINGTON — Town authorities held a news conference at the fire station Thursday to express thanks for the support they have received the past six weeks after a deadly propane explosion.

“As you know we have had firefighters from throughout state coming in and assisting us with coverage 24/7,” acting Fire Chief Tim Hardy said. “Today marks the first day that we are going back to some type of what we call a new normal, and as we work forward we will be adjusting to that new normal.”

About 80 fire departments stepped in to help cover Farmington after the Sept. 16 explosion at LEAP Inc.’s central offices on Farmington Falls Road. Capt. Michael A. Bell, 68, was killed and six other firefighters and LEAP maintenance supervisor Larry Lord, 61, of Jay were critically or seriously injured. The firefighters have been released from medical facilities, while Lord remains in serious condition at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The investigation continues into what caused some of the 400 gallons of propane in a storage tank to leak from a line under the parking lot into the building and what sparked the explosion, Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety said Thursday.

“I want to say thank you to the overwhelming support that we’ve had not only throughout the area here but throughout the state, and also we received a lot of support across the country,” Hardy said.

Three of the injured firefighters, Deputy Chief S. Clyde Ross, 82, Capt. Tim “TD” Hardy, 40, and firefighter Joseph Hastings, 24, have returned to work at the department. It is Hardy’s and Hastings’ second week back.

Firefighters come in daily to see them, which is a real morale booster, acting Chief Hardy said.

Chief Terry Bell, 63, Capt. Scott Baxter, 37, and his father, firefighter Ted Baxter, 64, are recovering.

There is no time frame for when Bell will return to work, Hardy said, but added that Bell is hoping to return by the end of this year.

As the department goes through the process of recovery, he said, “it will not be complete until we get Larry Lord home.

A decal honoring the memory of Farmington Fire Rescue Capt. Michael Bell is displayed on the window of Engine 1 at the Farmington Fire Rescue Department. Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal

Both Lord and the LEAP family have become part of the department’s family, Hardy said.

Hardy, Town Manager Richard Davis and Deputy Police Chief Shane Cote addressed reporters.

“We  are honored to have you here as we have been honored to have the assistance of more than 80 fire departments around the state of Maine as we are getting through this period of recovery,”  Davis said. “I cannot express enough my gratitude for all the assistance and support we have received from these departments, from the residents of Farmington and other surrounding communities around the state of Maine, and businesses who have supported our firefighters with food and words of encouragement and condolences.

“We are extremely grateful and will be forever in the debt of these people and as we move forward we will keep them certainly in mind as well as our recovering firefighters who are doing well,” he said. “We are very supportive of them and we want to keep, also in our thoughts and prayers, Larry Lord and the family of Mr. Lord as he recovers from his grievous injuries caused by this very unfortunate and tragic incident.”

Cote said they are glad to have the firefighters home. The last injured firefighter, Capt. Baxter, returned from a rehabilitation center in Portland on Tuesday.

“We work very closely with all the first responders in Farmington … Hopefully Larry can come home soon,” Cote said.

He thanked all the agencies that have helped the fire department, police department and emergency medical responders who have helped the town in the past six weeks.

Several firefighters, including Capt. Hardy, Ross and Hastings, stood behind acting Chief Hardy as he spoke. Franklin County Deputy Emergency Agency Director Amanda Simoneau, Davis and Cote were also behind him. Hardy referred to them as part of the team.

“We have worked very well in the past and we will continue to do so as we go and continue through this recovery,” Hardy said. “As has been indicated before, our thoughts and prayers are truly with Larry Lord and his family but our thoughts and prayers also continue with Capt. Bell’s wife and her family and assisting her and her family through this process. We are in constant contact with them. They are over here at the station periodically visiting us, which is a big morale booster for all of us.”

Hardy also thanked the media for their professionalism and caring as they covered this story.

“We really appreciate that … especially nowadays as we see what is going on in other parts of the world,” he said.

“This has been a tragic event, and still is, but it has brought a lot of us closer,” he said. “I think a lot closer, and we regained and developed some very good new and close relationships throughout the state of Maine and throughout the country.”

Hardy said, “We have a fantastic mutual aid sytem with our fire departments so as we can continue to recover from this we will be working very closely with them. We will get through this as we stated before. Every day we are making very positive progress.

“I think we have all known over the years the firefighting family or brotherhood, however, you want to call it, has always been there for each other,” he continued. “This is really above and beyond any of my expectations. We’ve worked with a lot of these follks over the years at different functions and trainings and activities throughout the state. As I said, this, at least for me, has really has been fantastic and overwhelming and we greatly appreciate everything that everybody is doing and has done. They have indicated to us if we have any needs as we go through this recovery that they are here to continue to support us.”

It has been amazing the distances the fire departments and firefighters traveled and “left their families and work to come here and support us,” Hardy said.

In closing, he again thanked the people of Farmington and surrounding communities for supporting them.

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