Maine fire chief dies while attending fallen firefighter’s funeral


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The funeral for a Maine firefighter took a tragic turn on Sunday.

With firefighters from across the state gathered in Portland to honor Berwick Capt. Joel Barnes, who died while shielding another firefighter during a four-alarm blaze on March 1, The Pine Tree State’s firefighting community suffered another loss.

While attending Barnes’ public memorial service, Oxford Fire Chief Gary Sacco died following a medical issue, a stunning loss for a state that was already mourning the first firefighter to die while battling a blaze since 1980, according to the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Prior to becoming fire chief in Oxford in 2017, Sacco worked 12 years at New Gloucester, where he was the department’s first full-time chief, according to local media reports.

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“Our hearts, already broken by the loss of Captain Joel Barnes, also mourn the loss of Oxford Fire Chief Gary Sacco,” Maine Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement. “The State of Maine has given two of its best to the Heavens.”

Barnes, 32, was remembered during a public memorial that drew thousands to the Cross Insurance Arena, one of the only venues in Maine big enough to host such a large event.

He was one of two firefighters who encountered a wall of flames during the March 1 inferno in Berwick and later died at a hospital in New Hampshire. Five other firefighters were injured.

Barnes is the first Maine firefighter to die while battling a blaze since 1980, when Portland’s Joseph Cavallaro Jr. died of burns and asphyxiation at a nightclub fire.

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

“We vow to never forget,” said John Duross, president of the Maine Fire Chiefs Association.

Hours later, Maine was grieving again with news of Sacco’s death.

“I knew Chief Sacco from my time working at Gray-Fire-Rescue,” Maine state Rep. Matt Harrington said on Twitter. “My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and department.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

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