Remembering Cory Barr was on the minds of every speaker who stood behind the podium inside Fire Station #1 on Sunday, July 10, to remember what happened four years ago in Downtown Sun Prairie.
That’s the night Sun Prairie Fire Capt. Cory Barr died following a natural gas explosion that leveled several buildings, displaced residents, dislocated businesses, injured Sun Prairie Police Sgt. (now Lt.) Ray Thomson and firefighter Ryan Welch, and took Barr’s life.
But as Sun Prairie Fire Chief and Acting Emergency Medical Service Chief Chris Garrison reminded most of the crowd gathered inside Fire Station 1, firefighters succeeded in evacuating everyone before the explosion occurred.
“Our soldiers, they got everybody out and they were selfless. They worked that day and everybody knew what could happen that day. But they still worked unselfishly,” Garrison said.
“Half of the buildings on the block had high levels of natural gas in them. And it could have been any building and taking any carnage but it chose the one here on Bristol and Main,” the chief added. “It’s a hard day.”
Mayor Paul Esser recalled the people who were displaced and their homes lost because of the explosion, but said that was nothing to the sacrifice of the Barr family.
“But the people that lost the most that evening — and it’s where I always come back to every time we do this is Cory’s wife, Abby, and his two daughters,” Esser said.
“That night, their lives were permanently changed by what occurred here. The rest of us experienced the loss but we moved on and our life got back to some semblance of the normal that it had been,” Esser said. “But for Abby, and for the girls, that was gone in that instant and that was never coming back. And that stays with me to this day, that this city has an obligation to support Abby and Cory’s daughters in their time here in Sun Prairie and we stand ready to do that.
“I think Abby must think sometimes I stalk her because I’m always watching what she’s up to next. But we are there as a community,” Esser said. “We care about her. And that was the outpouring that we saw on the night of July 10 and that will never go away. So it is well that we’re here today and that we share this time together. We need somebody to continue to grieve with as we go through this and move forward.”
“The biggest loss that evening was Cory Barr,” said Sun Prairie Police Chief Mike Steffes, who volunteered to help on July 10, 2018 as a member of the Wisconsin Department of Justice. “And I often think about how he died that evening but more so I always want to remember how he lived.
“I want to remember the beautiful family that he left behind, but what they’re doing for their community every single day,” Steffes added. “I just want to take a moment and say thank you for everything that you have sacrificed for our community — all of you. Thank you everyone.”
Cory’s wide, Abby, brought her two daughters to the podium with her. Only one of the girls offered her thoughts: “I’m gonna say that I love my dad.”
“It’s been four years but there’s some days it still feels like it’s just happened,” an emotional Barr told the crowd. “Today is just one of those days and I don’t have a lot to share. I just it’s hard and I just I just miss him so much. Especially when with the girls growing up and seeing qualities in them that came from him. I mean they’re — they’re definitely products of their parents which is both good and bad, or good and challenging, I should say.”
Barr recalled spending the day with her daughters at the Family Aquatic Center.
“And I’m playing with them in the pool and they’re both hanging on me and we’re playing and all I kept thinking is ‘I wish he was here to also be throwing them around the pool with me’ . . . and I’ve dealt with grief head-on every day for the last four years and I will continue to do so.”
Abby Barr said she has another goal: to make Cory proud. She’s part of a business downtown and continues to be grateful for the support from Sun Prairie.
“When people tell me that he’d be proud of what I’m doing, that means a lot because that’s what I wake up every day trying to do is to make him proud,” she added. “And I can’t say thank you enough to everyone in public safety. People that were also his family and friends alongside him that day. And also for a community that showed up in ways that were just unbelievable. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this Sun Prairie community and a part of a first responder family that continues every day to run towards danger knowing what could possibly happen.”
Garrison thanked everyone for attending the ceremony, which had to be quickly moved indoors due to an unexpected rain shower.
“As we walk out of this building, let’s remember to celebrate Cory his life because that’s what he would like,” Garrison said. “And it couldn’t be more fitting.”