An American flag hoisted on fire truck ladder waved in the breeze as hundreds gathered to mourn and honor the one-year mark of the July 10 gas explosion that killed Sun Prairie firefighter Capt. Cory Barr.
The fire and explosion put the Sun Prairie community in the spotlight. As local fire, police, EMS dealt with immediate needs, everyday citizens stepped up to lend a hand where they could.
“The story of July 10, 2018, is a story of loss, it’s a story of heroism and it’s a story of our community pulling together,” Esser told the crowd outside the Bristol Street fire station just a block from the blast’s epicenter, the Barr House at 100 E. Main St.
Barr, age 34, was killed in the blast while he helped evacuate people from the natural gas leak site. Five buildings were destroyed, families were left homeless and businesses were in rubble with millions of dollars in damages.
Esser acknowledged firefighters, police, and EMS work on that night.
“Their willingness to risk their lives saved the lives of 150 people that evening,” Esser said.
Barr, he said, died that evening in service to the community and that will always be remembered. Cory Barr, a 2002 Sun Prairie High School graduate, was survived by his wife, Abby, and his twin daughters, Aubrey and Hailey, now 4 years old.
Esser said that Cory’s family will always be supported by the residents of Sun Prairie.
“My wish for our community is that we can move on but never forget the sacrifices that were made for us by Cory that evening,” Esser said.
Several efforts are under way to honor Cory Barr, including a bronze statue of the Sun Prairie firefighter that will be put in front of the Sun Prairie fire station No. 1. Wisconsin U.S. Senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin are also pushing for the Sun Prairie Post Office to be renamed in honor of Barr.
Sun Prairie Fire Chief Chris Garrison acknowledged that it was a hard, emotion-filled day for firefighters and other first responders.
“Today we had anger, today we had sorrow, but today we also had a celebration,” Garrison told the people gathered outside the fire station.
He described Barr as a dedicated Sun Prairie resident who served his family and community in every way and continues to do so even after his death.
“Cory had a reason, he had a purpose,” Garrison emphasized. “Cory is sitting up there right now, looking down on this community and he knows that he brought us all together. No one else could have done what he did.”
“This is an amazing community, we are resilient, we are strong and will continue to be Sun Prairie Stronger,” Garrison said.
Abby Barr, with her daughters beside her all wearing matching Sun Prairie Stronger T-shirts, spoke to the crowd remembering last year.
“By the time the sun set a year ago, my world was turned upside down and hundreds and thousands experienced the most tragic event in Sun Prairie’s history,” she said. “People lost their businesses, their livelihoods, all their belongings, and downtown lost buildings that carried many memories for people who have lived in this town for centuries.”
But most importantly, she said, was the loss of her husband Cory, who she said was proud to be a lifelong Sun Prairie resident, a husband, father, firefighter, and businessman—owner of the Barr House, a tavern that was the site of the blast’s epicenter.
She said the community coming together to support her and Cory’s family and the public safety personnel has honored her husband’s memories.
Days after the blast, the community rallied behind #SunPrairieStrong by raising money for Barr’s family, first responders and displaced residents. Remembrance banners and flowers were left behind at the explosion site. Fundraisers, from kids selling lemonade to a telethon, and GoFundMe efforts, brought in more than a half million dollars.
“This community moved mountains at a time of need and everyone who lives here needs to be damn proud of that,” Abby Barr told the crowd.
Barr walked hand-in-hand with Pastor Charlie Brandt, with hundreds following them to the corner of Bristol Street and Main Street where the blast happened.
As the march ended, a moment of silence marked the death of Cory Barr, as the last of the summer evening sun shone on people’s bowed heads.