People across Maine – including firefighters, police and Gov. Janet Mills – praised the courage and sacrifice of Berwick Fire Capt. Joel Barnes on Saturday as the investigation into the apartment fire he died battling continued.

Barnes, who is credited with saving a fellow department member’s life, is likely the first firefighter in Maine to have died in a fire in more than 38 years, public safety officials said.

“In my mind, he’s a hero,” said Berwick Fire Chief Dennis Plante during an emotional press conference Saturday afternoon. Plante said that while the firefighters’ actions during the fire are still being pieced together, “it sounds like Capt. Barnes did everything he could to save his partner.”

Barnes’ father, Michael Barnes of Old Orchard Beach, said Berwick firefighter Mitch Manfredi told him that Joel Barnes had jumped on him to protect him from the heat and the flames as the two waited to be rescued from the third floor. The two had become trapped there by the fire.

Manfredi, who is also a firefighter at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, could not be reached for comment Saturday. But the profile picture on his Facebook page was a black badge that read, “Berwick Fire Dept. Maine Capt. Joel Barnes LODD 03/01/2019.” LODD is an abbreviation for “line of duty death.”

COMPUTER MODELING OF FIRE

It could be several more days before fire investigators complete their inquiry into the cause of the fire that killed the 32-year-old Barnes on Friday.

Investigators on Saturday were back at the scene of the fire at the three-story, four-unit apartment building at 10 Bell St. State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas said investigators are using computer modeling to try to find what started the fire and what went on inside the building.

Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said the fire apparently started on a third-floor porch. He said the investigation will continue next week with help from fire investigators of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Berwick Town Manager Stephen G. Eldridge said he is not aware of any code violations at 10 Bell St. and that all the smoke alarms were working when firefighters arrived.

Barnes and Manfredi had to be pulled from the building. Three other firefighters who entered the building with them managed to escape on their own. None of the residents were injured, McCausland said. He said Barnes, Manfredi and three other firefighters entered the building “primarily to make sure everyone was out.”

The American Red Cross is helping 10 people displaced by the Friday morning fire, which took crews from 17 communities in Maine and New Hampshire to knock down.

While there is no central record kept of Maine firefighters killed while fighting a blaze, McCausland and Thomas said the last they could recall it happening was more than 38 years ago, in Portland. On March 24, 1980, Firefighter Joseph C. Cavallaro Jr., 26, died around 2:30 a.m. as a result of burns and asphyxiation he suffered while fighting a three-alarm fire at The Phoenix nightclub on Oak Street, according to the city’s website. Other firefighters have died while on duty since then, but not as a direct result of a fire.

DEPARTMENTS PAY TRIBUTE

Barnes, of Shapleigh, was unresponsive when firefighters removed him from the building. He remained unresponsive on the way to the Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, New Hampshire, where he was pronounced dead.

An autopsy to determine the cause of death was to be performed by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New Hampshire. No one from that office could be reached Saturday.

Barnes’ body was escorted from the medical examiner’s office to a Dover funeral home by Berwick Police and Fire, as firefighters and police officers from other agencies saluted from major bridge overpasses. Town officials said Berwick firefighters would hold a vigil over Barnes’ body until his funeral service. Funeral arrangements were pending Saturday.

Dozens of fire and police departments across Maine, and in New Hampshire, posted condolences on Facebook for Barnes, his family and the Berwick Fire Department.

‘A PROFOUND SENSE OF GRIEF’

“Our hearts go out to our brothers and sisters in Berwick. Please keep the Berwick Fire Department and the family of Captain Joel Barnes in your thoughts and prayers through this difficult time,” read a post by Lebanon Fire and EMS. “Berwick Fire Department suffered a line of duty death while battling a four alarm fire. Captain Joel Barnes died a hero, doing what he loved, but that doesn’t make his loss any easier. We send our deepest sympathies and prayers to the loved ones and colleagues of Capt. Barnes,” read a post by the Scarborough Police Department.

Eldridge, the Berwick town manager, also praised Barnes.

“Captain Barnes lost his life saving others; while we honor him, we are struck with a profound sense of grief today,” Eldridge said in a statement Saturday.

In a statement Saturday, Plante, the Berwick fire chief, said “Captain Barnes died a hero, battling a large and dangerous building fire. He made the ultimate sacrifice for his community.”

Barnes was one of five full-time firefighters at the Berwick department, which is also manned by 25 on-call, per diem and junior personnel.

Barnes was a 2005 graduate of Old Orchard Beach High School. In Berwick, where he had worked since 2016, he was a training officer and emergency medical services coordinator. He previously worked at South Berwick Rescue, York Ambulance, the Old Orchard Beach Fire Department and as a firefighter and paramedic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He was a per diem firefighter in Acton.

He attended the Southern Maine Community College fire science program and trained at the Horry County Fire Department in South Carolina.

Gov. Mills issued a statement Friday following Barnes’ death.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the family, colleagues, and friends of Berwick firefighter Capt. Joel Barnes, who lost his life fighting a four-alarm fire today. Joel will be forever remembered for his courage and service to our state,” said Mills.

Barnes’ family has requested that any donations being made in his name go to the Berwick Volunteer Firefighters Association in his memory c/o Kennebunk Saving Bank, 2 School St., Berwick, ME 03901.

Local residents are also collecting clothing, socks, underwear and toiletries for people displaced by the fire, said Kathy McGraw Sheedy, an organizer of the effort.

Donations can be brought to the Berwick United Methodist Church, 37 School St, Sunday from 12-4 p.m., Monday and Tuesday from 10-7 p.m. and Wednesday 10-4 p.m. For more information email [email protected] or call 603-312-4193.

 

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