MINOT (WGME) — Eleven months ago, an explosion caused by a gas leak killed Farmington fire Capt. Michael Bell and severely injured several others.
In the wake of that tragedy, the state of Maine has purchased 22 gas detection meters for fire departments across the state.
Minot is one of the fire departments that will get one of the new gas detection meters. The meters detect the presence of dangerous gasses, which allows firefighters to take appropriate precautions to protect themselves and others.
“This system has a pump built-in and it’s drawing a series of air samples across the sensors,” Auburn Fire Chief Robert Chase said.
“The accuracy and usefulness really depend on the calibration,” he said.
Chase said his department has six gas detection devices — one for every crew that goes out on a call.
“Having a minimum of one in every department is hugely critical to firefighter safety,” Chase said.
The meters measure the amount of oxygen in the air but they also detect hydrogen sulfide or sewer gas, combustible gases, and carbon monoxide.
“We see a lot of carbon monoxide calls as well as those explosive gas calls,” he said. After the Farmington explosion, several fire departments bought new gas detection meters.
Gov. Janet Mills said she wants every department to have one.
“These new gas detection meters will prevent tragedies like the one in Farmington and spare us the painful loss of another heroic first responder,” she said.
In the Farmington explosion, LEAP employees and some firefighters could smell the propane leak.
Transcripts of interviews with firefighters indicate they were getting maximum gas readings before the explosion.
But Chase said these devices could have detected the propane long before it reached an explosive level.
“If you reach 10 percent of the way toward the atmosphere being explosive to you, you’ll go into alarm at that point. So, you get an audible and visual alarm far before you ever reach an environment where you’re standing in an explosive atmosphere,” he said.
The chiefs of two fire departments on the governor’s list said they already have gas detection meters. They said they plan to ask the governor to give theirs to a department that needs one.