In mid-September, tragedy struck the small Maine town of Farmington when a propane explosion killed one firefighter and injured seven other individuals – six of them also fire personnel. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the American Legion Family at Roderick Crosby American Legion Post 28 stepped up to help its community’s firefighters heal.
Farmington Fire Rescue was investigating a gas smell at LEAP, Inc. – a facility that houses and assists individuals with developmental, cognitive and intellectual disabilities – on Sept. 16 when a propane explosion flattened the facility, destroyed and damaged nearby buildings, and killed Fire Capt. Michael Bell.
A community of less than 8,000 residents, the tragedy shook Farmington – and prompted Post 28’s Legion Family to almost immediately deliver assistance.
On Sept. 22, firefighters and their families and other first responders gathered at the Farmington Fire Department for a turkey dinner provided by Post 28’s Legion Family. It was the first of what has become a Sunday tradition for the post and will continue through the end of the year.
“We’re a small town. We’re about 7,800 (residents), but we all know each other,” said three-term Post Commander Matt Smith, who also serves on the Farmington Board of Selectmen. “We knew that they were going to need a lot of food and a lot of help, because we had firefighters from all across the state coming in and volunteering. It just felt like the right thing to do.”
In addition to providing a meal, the post also is providing an opportunity for the firefighters impacted by the tragedy to heal. Smith said he was pulled aside after the first meal and told by a Maine Department of Public Safety crisis crew that they wanted to use the meal as the opportunity to “get the whole firehouse together. A family type setting with comfort food … just help the healing process. The people that help set that up cannot believe how much it helped.”
The reaction from those attending the meals has been one of gratitude, Smith said. “We’ve got kids running around (during the meals),” he said. “It’s just a fun atmosphere to be around for a couple hours a week.”
The American Legion Preamble states one of the missions of organization is “to inculcate a sense of individual obligation to the community, state and nation.” That’s why Smith said Post 28’s Legion Family put on the first meal and has continued to do so.
“Whenever we need help or a hand, the community is always there for us,” Smith said. “It’s the least we could do to be there. It’s kind of what we all do. We all serve. We serve in different ways.”