Somber procession carries fallen firefighter's body home to Old Orchard Beach

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Several fire companies and ladder trucks gather to salute the body of Berwick Fire Capt. Joel Barnes as a procession makes its way north on Interstate 95 on Sunday. (Portland Press Herald photo)

OLD ORCHARD BEACH, Maine - The body of Berwick Fire Captain Joel Barnes was borne back to his hometown of Old Orchard Beach on Sunday afternoon, hailed by fire companies and the public lining the streets and highways to salute him as a hero.

Fire trucks from several communities presented arms with ladders crossed at various highway overpasses as Barnes' body passed slowly underneath.

The Old Orchard Beach Funeral Home, which received Barnes' body, is expected to host a private family service this week, while arrangements for another service for the fire community are expected to be released in the coming days.

Firefighters on Sunday maintained their 24-hour constant vigil over Barnes' body, which arrived at a Dover funeral home after its departure from the medical examiner's office in Concord, N.H., on Saturday.

Barnes, 32, whose Facebook Page lists Rochester, N.H., as his home, died in a large apartment fire on Bell Street Friday. The origin and cause of the fire remain under investigation today. Captain Barnes was leading another firefighter in an interior attack of the fire when conditions suddenly worsened.

Four other firefighters were injured fighting the fire and are expected to be OK.

On Sunday, Maine Gov. Janet Mills directed the U.S. and State of Maine flags be flown at half-staff statewide on the day of his services.

"Captain Joel Barnes laid down his life to save a fellow firefighter as together, they fought to protect Maine families," said Mills. "Joel will be forever remembered as a hero for his bravery and service to our state."

Barnes was a paramedic and 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 for the town of Acton, Maine.

Meanwhile, the family is asking for privacy in their time of sorrow.

In a brief statement about Barnes, they said on Saturday:

"Joel always wanted to be a firefighter. He died doing the job he loved, helping his brother firefighters. Joel died a hero, and while nothing can ease the tremendous sense of loss and grief that we are now feeling, we are proud that his final actions were selfless.

"Joel leaves his mother, father, sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew, along with extended family. We have been overwhelmed by expressions of sorrow and offers of support from our neighbors in Berwick, from throughout Maine and New Hampshire, and from the firefighting community.

"We are asking for privacy so that our family can come together during this time."

The family of Captain Barnes requests 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.

John Guilfoil Public Relations LLC contributed to this report.

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