PORTLAND, Maine — Thousands of firefighters and citizens lined the streets of Portland on Sunday, March 10 to honor the late Capt. Joel Barnes.
Barnes passed away on the front lines while fighting an apartment fire in Berwick on March 1. He was just 32 years old.
Family members and the Berwick Fire Department honored Barnes at a private mass at Old Orchard Beach Funeral Home early Sunday morning. Before working with the Berwick Fire Department for two and a half years, Barnes had served per diem on the Old Orchard Beach Fire Department.
Maine State Police led a procession starting at 9:30 a.m. from Old Orchard Beach to South Portland Central Fire Station where Barnes' casket was placed on a fire truck. The procession then continued across Casco Bay Bridge where Portland fire boats saluted to the Cross Insurance Arena.
Firefighters gathered on the sides of the street waiting for Barnes' casket to go by Sunday morning.
Asst. Chief Thomas Loeper from Horry County in South Carolina knew Barnes. He spoke about what it meant to him to be there Sunday in celebration of Barnes' service.
"It's hard to find the words right now, actually," said Loeper. "Joel was a wonderful person. He gave his life for another. There's no higher honor, and we're glad we could be here to help celebrate his life."
A public memorial service was planned at the Cross Insurance Arena at 11 a.m. Crews worked through the early hours of the morning to get the facility set up for the 7,000 firefighters expected to attend. At least 125 departments from Maine and dozens more from across New England came to Portland to honor Barnes.
"Nothing will make the grief and the insurmountable loss we face in the firefighting community easier, facing the harsh reality that at the end of the day, we did not all go home," said Kennebunk Fire Department Chief Jeffery Rowe at the service. "Yet firefighters never truly die. They burn forever in the hearts they save."
Barnes was credited with saving the life of fellow firefighter Mitch Manfredi from the Berwick Fire Department on March 1. Barnes was also presented with a Medal of Valor from the Teamsters 340 union.
"Brotherhood recognizes no gender, no blood relation, and no department or union affiliation," said a Teamsters member. "Instead, brotherhood is what you see here today. Thousands of firefighters from all of the world, most of whom never met Captain Barnes, lining the streets and saluting to pay respect to a fallen brother."
The Teamsters member ended his presentation of the award by quoting Bible verse John 5:13.
"Greater love has no one than this -- that someone lay down his life for his friend. Captain, may you rest in peace."
Mitch Manfredi and Dylan Leary of the Berwick Fire Department offered the final firefighter's prayer before the 5-5-5 last alarm bell toll.
"I want to fill my calling -- give the best in me to guard my friend and neighbor and protect his property. And if according to your will, I must answer death's call, bless with your protecting hand my family, one and all."
Following the service, Barne's casket was taken Calvary Cemetery via a two-mile procession where he was buried with full fire department honors. The burial service was private for just family members and the Berwick Fire Department.