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Firefighters show pride at memorial ceremony in the face of so many losses

The deaths this year of Capt. Joel Barnes, Chief Gary Sacco, and Capt. Michael Bell are still fresh in the minds of the communities they strove to protect.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The addition of three new names to the Maine Firefighter Memorial brought added poignancy to the annual remembrance ceremony in Augusta.

The crowd that came out to pay its respects on Saturday morning, October 5, swelled with delegations from each community that lost a firefighter over the past year.

"They gave so much of themselves...To try to remember them is what we always try to do," Scott Holst, Vice President of the Kennebec County Maine State Federation of Firefighters and Lieutenant at the Waterville Fire Department, told NEWS CENTER Maine. "They don't do it for glory. They don't do it for recognition. They do it because they want to protect the people, and this is what they love to do."

Capt. Joel Barnes died while protecting another firefighter, as a burning apartment building collapsed around them in Berwick on March 1. 

RELATED: With heavy hearts, brotherhood of firefighters say farewell to Captain Joel Barnes

Among the thousands of mourners who attended Capt. Barnes's funeral on March 10 in Portland was Oxford Fire Chief Gary Sacco. He suffered a medical event during the proceedings and died a short time later.

RELATED: 'We were his family.' Firefighters remember Chief who died unexpectedly at fallen firefighter's funeral

The death of Capt. Michael Bell is so recent that funeral services have not yet been held. He died on September 16 when the LEAP, Inc. facility in Farmington exploded. Six fellow firefighters and a maintenance worker were also hurt. Investigators say a propane leak provided the fuel for the blast, but work continues to find the trigger that set it off.

RELATED: Family of Farmington fire captain killed in explosion thanks community

"We're there to protect the property and lives -- and then clean-up, and go back, and then re-live what we did right, what we did wrong, what can we do the next time?" says Ken Desmond, President of the Maine State Federation of Firefighters, about incidents like the Farmington explosion. "We're doing this on a day to day basis when we're out serving the public."

Sen. Susan Collins attended Saturday's event. She reflected on this year's three firefighters' deaths during the memorial ceremony, saying, "Not all heroes wear capes."

People like Ashley Castagnetto can testify to that claim. Lieutenant Holst is her father -- and she says she is grateful every time he gets out of work safely.

"At any time, it could be your loved one. But, you know, you just hold tight and say your prayers that it never happens to you."

A memorial plaque from MSFFF ensures the legacy of all fallen firefighters in the state lives on with name-tags. The names tagged in red means those men or women died on the line of duty.

"They'll never be forgotten," Desmond says. "We are going to remember them until we all pass."

Gov. Janet Mills couldn't attend the ceremony, but she had earlier proclaimed October 5 to be Firefighter's Recognition Day. 

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