Local News

Firefighter's name to be placed on memorial 25 years after death

SEBRING - Twenty five years ago, West Sebring volunteer firefighter Joseph R. Barrett, 57, died not only in the line of duty but he may have saved lives, as well. Barrett suffered a fatal heart attack on Jan. 31, 1988, just after getting in the volunteer fire department's tanker and departing, said Steve Robertson, a longtime West Sebring volunteer firefighter who researched the death. While suffering the heart attack, Barrett managed to put the brakes on the vehicle and stopped it from going onto a public road, possibly preventing an accident, he said. On Oct. 11, Barrett will get some long overdue recognition when his name is placed on the Florida Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Ocala at 9:30 a.m. Other fallen firefighters who will be memorialized that day include Levon C. Benton, a Jacksonville firefighter who died of a heart attack on duty on Dec. 27, 1990, and Roy Pratt, an Orlando firefighter who collapsed and died of a heart attack while fighting a fire on April 3, 1927.
When that happens, Robertson hopes Barrett's family members will be present. But so far he's had no success tracking any of Barrett's sons, daughters or grandchildren. Barrett had two sons, Henry and Douglas, and two daughters, one named Elizabeth, Robertson said. The other daughter's name is believed to be Mary, he said, adding they are unsure of the daughters' last names.. Barrett's wife died in 2003, he said. Besides being unable to find Barrett's family, Robertson said, he's been unsuccessful tracking down other information. He said he couldn't even find an obituary. Barrett apparently worked in the orange groves, he said. When he was with the fire department, he kept to himself, Robertson said. He seemed to enjoy driving the tanker, which remained with the West Sebring Volunteer Fire Department until around 2005. Robertson said he talked with a couple of firefighters who worked with Barrett, but they said they knew little about him personally, Robertson said. That not a lot of information is available about him, however, had little, if anything, to do with the 25-year delay in getting his name on the memorial. In fact, Robertson said, Barrett's name is on a national memorial, but until recently, firefighters who died of a heart attack did not qualify for the state memorial, he said. The only other local firefighter's name on the memorial is Ann Sheppard, a Venus volunteer firefighter who collapsed and died during a training exercise in 1994. She was 26 years old. Anyone with information regarding Barrett's family can call Robertson at (863) 381-8065. jmeisel@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5834.