Thousands gathered in Portland on Sunday morning to honor the life of Capt. Joel Barnes of the Berwick Fire Department, believed to be the first Maine firefighter to have died in a fire in nearly four decades.

A funeral procession motorcade with dozens of official vehicles snaked across the Casco Bay Bridge from South Portland around 10:45 a.m. while fireboats below sprayed jets of red, white and blue water into the frigid air.

Firefighters lined Spring Street outside Cross Insurance Arena, where a memorial service was being held, as they waited for the procession to arrive. Organizers expected thousands of attendees – including representatives from at least 11 states and more than 225 fire departments, including 125 from Maine. Also outside the arena was Kristian Rowell of Scarborough and her family. She and her mother-in-law held the corners of an American flag, and Rowell had a plastic firefighter hat for her 4-year-old son, Mason.

Rowell said the family does not have any connection to the fire service, but that her husband served in the military.

“We thought it was important to show our respect to Capt. Barnes and to show my son Mason the importance of coming out to say thank you for your service,” said Rowell, 34.

Barnes, a 32-year-old from Shapleigh, died March 1 from injuries sustained after he and another firefighter became trapped in a third-floor room of a blazing apartment building on Bell Street in Berwick, according to fire officials and his family.


According to family members, Barnes’ final act was to shield another firefighter when the flames and the heat pressed in around them.

The announcement of Barnes’ death followed an intense effort by crews from 17 communities in Maine and New Hampshire to control a fire that completely destroyed the third floor of the three-story apartment building and engulfed a rear wooden porch area.

Barnes was among a group of five firefighters who went into the building to fight the flames, and only three of them found a way to escape. Barnes and the firefighter he protected had to be pulled from the building.

Barnes was unresponsive when his colleagues removed him from the building. EMTs and others immediately began efforts to resuscitate him, but were unsuccessful. He was pronounced dead at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover.

This story will be updated.

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