SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (WMTV) - The community gathered to pay respects to fallen firefighter Capt. Cory Barr on Saturday.
"If Cory could say something right now he would do everything the same way all over again. No resistance. No stepping back. He would face the danger and do it all over again," said Sun Prairie Fire Chief Christopher Garrison, during the funeral program.
Capt. Cory Barr died in the line of duty on Tuesday responding to a gas leak that resulted in an explosion in Sun Prairie. Barr was a firefighter for 15 years. He was captain of the Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department, a realtor with Keller Williams, and owner of The Barr House, which was leveled in the explosion. The 34-year-old leaves behind his wife, Abby, and 3-year-old twin daughters, Aubrey and Hailey.
People from all over the community attended a public visitation at the Sun Prairie High School Saturday morning. The visitation ended at 10:00 a.m. and the funeral began around 12:00 p.m., which was about an hour later than planned. The delay was due to the high turnout. Volunteers dedicated their time to direct traffic and a jumbotron was set up outside the high school for people to watch the funeral.
"We would say thank you. We love you. We are so grateful for everything you do in this community. Without you and our firefighters it would not be the community we are living in right now," said Kathi Busse, a Sun Prairie resident.
Busse was one of the dozens of people lining the sidewalks of Main Street in downtown Sun Prairie who placed their hands over their hearts and watched as the funeral procession passed. They gave thanks as Capt. Cory Barr passed through his neighborhood one last time-- a place that will always be considered his home.
"He's a hero, that's all I can say. He's a hero and he will be greatly missed," Busse said.
The line for visitors at the high school was closed promptly at 10:00 a.m. to prepare for the procession, and arrival of family members, members of the Sun Prairie Fire Department and other emergency responders.
The Sun Prairie Fire Department is a volunteer fire department, which Capt. Barr served for 16 years. He was the youngest firefighter in department history, joining the force in 2003. He is credited for saving many lives prior to Tuesday evening's explosion and is being called a hero for helping to evacuate 115 people.
Pastor Charlie Grant, who gave the sermon, shared that losing a firefighter is always difficult. Barr's death is the first time the Sun Prairie volunteer fire department has lost someone in action since it was founded in 1891.
Firefighters from all over the state of Wisconsin came to show their support. An incredible line of fire trucks lined up outside the high school. After the funeral service, the trucks followed the Barr family in a procession to the funeral home.
"Well, I think the volunteers do it for the same reason everybody else does. We all still have the same brotherhood and sisterhood and comaraderie that we share-- no matter if they're career or volunteer," said Brad Subera, the Middleton Fire Department Battalion Chief. He was one of many attending that wore a black band in memorium across his badge.
More than 159 agencies from across Wisconsin, the city of Chicago and even the state of Nebraska attended the service to honor Capt. Barr-- reinforcing the sense of family among the firefighting and first responder community, as well as a reminder of the sacrifices that they are making while working.
Cmdr. Brett Jones from Milwaukee said he met Barr during training for the Honor Guard. Jones said he was struck by Barr's sense of honor and his outlook on life, and reflected on the fact that Barr would have attended -- without question -- the services held for another fallen colleague.
“You talk to anybody-- nobody has a single bad thing to say about him because the whole community itself just loved him to death. He was very outgoing, laughing all the time and that’s what they are going to miss out on is, is that send off for a man that was very well liked," said Jones.
The service for Capt. Barr nearly reached the 2,824 person capacity of the high school gymnasium. At the conclusion of Capt. Barr's service, the Sun Prairie firefighter's casket was placed in the same antique firetruck he helped restore.
Firefighter honors-- including the folding of the American flag, the playing of Taps, and Amazing Grace on bagpipes-- were performed indoors at the end of the ceremony. A flyover by UW Med Flight was slated to mark the beginning of the procession from the high school to the funeral home.
The Sun Prairie Education Foundation is creating the Cory Barr Education Memorial Fund.
"To honor Cory's service and his role in the community, we've worked with Sun Prairie High School and the Fire Department. They have a program for high school students to do the fire academy and do training through Madison College. So we set up an account with the Sun Prairie Education Foundation to create the Cory Barr Fire Education Memorial Fund," said Bridget Maniaci, who served on the City of Madison's Common Council, Dist. 2, for four years. Maniaci is a Sun Prairie High School graduate and classmate of Capt. Barr.
The Sun Prairie Fire Department worked this past year with the high school and Madison College to establish a fire course for credit. It allows approximately 10-15 students a year to begin learning to get professionally certified to enter Fire and EMS careers, Maniaci said.
Barr was one of six firefighters hurt in Tuesday's explosion. Four had minor injuries. Ryan Welch was critically injured, then released and honored with a hero's welcome home and escort to Sun Prairie Fire Station One on Thursday evening. Seven civilians were treated at hospitals and released.
Also on Saturday, residents paid respects at the explosion site-- many of them seeing the site for the first time in person.
Bryan Addison lives just down the street from where the explosion happened, and was evacuated from his apartment for several days. As Barr's procession passed, he reflected on those still displaced, and the people like Capt. Barr who put their lives on the line to keep those who live here safe.
"They face danger everyday and I appreciate all that he did and, unfortunately, he lost his life doing his service for his community," Addison said.
Bethlehem Lutheran Church, the church the Barr family belongs to, has started a GoFund Me page to raise money for the family’s expenses.