Firefighters in Berwick are standing in a round-the-clock vigil over the body of a fire captain who died while fighting a fire Friday in this town on the New Hampshire border.
A procession Sunday afternoon will transfer Barnes’ body from Tasker Funeral home in Dover, New Hampshire, to Old Orchard Beach Funeral Home in Maine. Fire trucks are expected to line highway overpasses along Interstate 95 to the Saco exit, according to Berwick officials.
An initial investigation indicates that Barnes was leading another firefighter in an interior attack of the four-alarm fire, which was reported just before 11 a.m. Friday, when conditions suddenly worsened. Four other firefighters injured in the fire were released from a local hospital on Friday, according to town officials.
Gov. Janet Mills said her thoughts and prayers were with the Barnes family and his friends and colleagues.
“Joel will be forever remembered for his courage and service to our state,” Mills said. “I’d also ask every family in Maine to join with me in praying for the swift recovery of the four firefighters still hospitalized.”
Berwick Fire Chief Dennis Plante called the 32-year-old Barnes a hero who “made the ultimate sacrifice for his community.”
“Firefighters run toward danger and into places that everyone else is running away from. Capt. Barnes lost his life saving others, while we honor him, we are struck with a profound sense of grief today,” Berwick Town Manager Stephen G. Eldridge said.
The Dover Fire Department joined the procession of Berwick firefighters and police when it entered that city. The Barnes family said they were “overwhelmed by expressions of sorrow and offers of support” from all over Maine and New Hampshire.
Before Friday, Maine had not had a firefighter fatality since March 2016, when Capt. Peter Larlee of the East Millinocket Fire Department had a heart attack at the fire station and died.
Tributes and condolences sprang up on social media as the news spread of Barnes’ death. Firefighters from as far away as Florida praised Barnes for his courage and sacrifice. Reporters tweeted pictures of the sign at the Berwick station draped in black cloth and of flowers left there and at the scene of the blaze.
The Woolwich Fire Department ran on its Facebook page a picture from the fire scene showing 11 firefighters using four ladders “in a very dangerous space doing all they can to rescue one of their own.
“We can see that no one in this picture is thinking about their own life and only thinking about saving one of their own. We see that the fire is still burning around them and one unseen firefighter still using a hoseline to keep the flames back while his fellow firefighters work to save one of their own,” the caption reads. “Full-time or volunteer, we are all the same when the alarm comes in, and we all will do whatever it takes to get the job done, and if the unthinkable happens, we will all do whatever it takes to save one of our own or any life.”
The York County Emergency Management Agency tweeted, “Our deepest condolences & support go out to the department & all those who cared about Joel. We are so sorry for your loss… #Berwick.”
“Today Myrtle Beach Fire honors him one last time by assigning him to our rigs for one final ride. Captain Joel Barnes LODD 03/01/2019,” Myrtle Beach Fire Department tweeted.
Barnes is the 19th firefighter to have died on the job in Maine since 1990, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The cause of the fire remains undetermined. A team of investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is assembling and will be on-scene sometime next week to assist local investigators, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
“That’s the federal agency that investigates fires,” McCausland said. “They have come in a number of times through the years, primarily for large industrial fires. A firefighter’s death meets their criteria to assist a local entity, so they will be coming in.”
A private family service will be held this week, and a separate service for the fire community is being planned, the town of Berwick said.
The Barnes family requests that any donations being made in Capt. Joel Barnes’ name go to the Berwick Volunteer Firefighters Association in his memory c/o Kennebunk Saving Bank, 2 School St., Berwick 03901.