On Saturday, the first day of 2022, a new law goes into effect in Maine that lawmakers hope will protect people from tragedy and destruction.
The state will require fuel gas detectors in certain buildings more than two years on from a deadly explosion in Farmington, Maine, that claimed the life of a firefighter, injured more than six other people and flattened the headquarters of a Western Maine nonprofit group.
The detectors will be required in rooms of certain buildings that have appliances fueled by propane, natural gas or liquified petroleum gas inside.
The specific buildings in which these types of devices will be mandated starting Saturday include housing occupied by three or more families, college dorms, fraternity and sorority houses, businesses and hotels, among others.
State officials like Maine State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas say that, had the law been enacted in 2019, it may not have prevented the explosion, death and injury. Instead, he believes the device would have provided first responders with additional information that would have been useful as they made decisions about where to be and when while investigating the source of the propane leak inside the building.
While Larry Lord, an employee who evacuated the building initially on the morning of the explosion reported smelling propane, Thomas says that local first responders his department spoke with recalled that the "rotten egg" odor of the additive in propane that alerts people to its presence was not detected as strongly when they were there.
Thomas believes the smell of the additive was filtered out by the ground around the building when the gas seeped into it from the area where the leak occurred -- but a fuel gas detector may still have sensed the propane.
“As you talked to the first responders and people that were there, they didn’t have that warning capability. Consequently, with detection, you would have had that safety measure,” he explained in an interview Tuesday.
More on the Farmington Gas Explosion
Thomas and Maine lawmakers hope the new law will prevent another similar tragedy from occurring.
Enforcement of the law will occur when building inspectors look at structures during routine walk-throughs.
Thomas believes Maine’s law requiring fuel gas detectors is one of the first of its kind in New England and cautioned that a device that senses only carbon monoxide is not the same type of device as a fuel gas detector.
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