Berwick Fire Capt. Joel Barnes responded to a Bell Street apartment fire on Friday, March 1 just the same as he did countless other times. Setting aside any fears for his own safety, Barnes was among the first firefighters to enter the Berwick building as a four-alarm fire was called.

For Barnes, responding to the call to serve and protect members of his community was what he did. It was his passion.

It was a passion for which he gave his life.

Barnes, 32, made the ultimate sacrifice in that fire, protecting one of his own — throwing his own body atop his colleague to shield him as they encountered a wall of flames on the third floor and had to be rescued. Four other firefighters were treated for injuries and subsequently released from Wentworth-Douglass Hospital. Barnes died there.

He was the first firefighter to die while battling a fire in Maine in 38 years.

The heartbreaking loss of a man described as a hero, a dedicated, trusted and skilled firefighter has devastated not only those in fire and public safety service locally, but also our communities throughout the Seacoast, and beyond. Barnes, who began his career with the Old Orchard Beach Fire Department in 2006 after graduating from the local high school, served as the Berwick Fire & Rescue training officer and emergency medical services coordinator. He previously worked for the Horry County (South Carolina) Fire Rescue Department, South Berwick Rescue, York Ambulance and the Old Orchard Beach Fire Department before joining Berwick Fire in July 2016. He was also an active per diem firefighter in Acton and per diem paramedic for York Ambulance.

On Sunday, several thousand people, including hundreds of firefighters from across southern York County and New England, attended a public memorial service at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

Barnes’ uncle, also named Joel, described his nephew becoming “obsessed” with fire service as a young boy and studying and preparing himself for a career in the field.

“Without hesitation, he gave his life to save the life of another firefighter,” Barnes said. “And he did it in the most selfless, courageous way possible.”

Barnes was honored throughout our local communities, as well. In York, words on the side of a new ambulance delivered early last week read “In memory of Paramedic Joel Barnes. Last Alarm 3-1-19.” For the York Ambulance crew, it was a small but important way to recognize their friend, who had been a part of the York Ambulance family since 2016.

The Berwick community has rallied around the victims of the fire and the Berwick Volunteer Firefighters Association, fundraising and collecting donations. Corner Point Brewing Company started a “fill the boot” donation drive and local designer Kay Vachon made special stickers in support of the Association, while Blue Dolphin Screen Printing in Somersworth, New Hampshire, donated T-shirts in support of the firefighters that are being sold alongside the stickers.

The fire service, said Kennebunk Fire Rescue Chief Jeff Rowe during Barnes' memorial service Sunday, is a profession in which “the public trusts us to protect and serve our communities, our neighbors, our friends and family, and often complete strangers.”

“We are the ones who accept the risk and run towards danger every day...We are the ones who answer the calls on the worst days of people’s lives,” he said.

Barnes, he said, “died a hero that day” so that others could live.

“Nothing will make the grief and 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. Yet firefighters never truly die,” he said. “They burn forever in the hearts of those they saved.”

This time of sorrow is a stark reminder of the sacrifice our emergency crews make every day. A sacrifice they make for our safety. We share in their grief following the loss of Capt. Barnes. And we are deeply, deeply thankful for their service.