MADISON — When a propane explosion rocked nearby Farmington in September, Madison fire Chief Don French was shocked that such a thing could happen in a small, rural Maine town.

On Sept. 16, 400 gallons of propane leaked into a business in Farmington and exploded, killing fire Capt. Michael Bell and injuring seven others.

French responded by equipping his station and others nearby with instruments that can detect gas leaks moving forward.

“I just wanted to make sure that our department and others were aware in order to do things right,” French said.

On Monday, French and the Madison department hosted a training session led by Waterville Firefighter Allen Nygren, whose department already has been using an older model gas meter.

Madison Fire Department received three Gas Alert Quattro meters. Two of them were donated by Backyard Farms, valued at a little over $1,000. The other meter was purchased by Bob Shipley of Bob’s Cash Fuel Oil.


French said that two of the meters will be located at the Company 1 station and the third will be at the Company 2 station, located in East Madison. Between the two stations, French said 20 firefighters are employed and all of them will be trained on how to use them.

“The tragedy in Farmington inspired this,” Shipley said at Monday night’s meeting at Madison Junior High School. “We got the idea from Waterville’s fire department and were concerned that many stations in central Maine were not equipped with these. Our philosophy is that our customers are our friends and neighbors, and the thought of not having one of these devices was surprising.”

Each meter reads LEL and three specific gasses. LEL stands for lowest explosive limit, the lowest concentration of a gas or vapor that once ignited will produce a flash of flame. The monitors will detect the lowest explosive levels of a variety of combustible gases as well as oxygen, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide.

In order for the meters to work properly, they must be turned on in fresh air. All readings must be at zero, except for the O2 meter, which should always be at 20.9 percent. Nygren said that the meters are designed to show an “error” message if the user tries to reset the meter and there is a high gas content in the air.

Monday evening’s training session involved about 60 local firefighters. Nygren led them through a lesson on the different ways that gases can be transported, the different states of gases and how much caution should be taken around them, the logistics of the meters and what the meters cannot read.

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