WALLINGTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Firefighters in New Jersey are mourning the loss of one of their own who died while battling a blaze at a restaurant in Wallington.
The flag at the Wallington fire house was lowered to half-staff Friday in memory of fallen veteran firefighter, Capt. Gregory Barnas.
“It’s a sad day, it’s a tragic day,” Wallington Fire Commissioner Mark Tomko said. “Our department and I know our community is mourning the loss and our hearts go out to the family.”
Around 1:30 a.m., Barnas, 57, rushed to the scene of a fire at the Akasaka Japanese restaurant on Paterson Avenue, less than half a mile from where he lived.
Tomko said Barnas was cutting a hole in the roof of the restaurant when he fell and went into cardiac arrest. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“It’s a freak accident,” family friend Anthony Molnar told CBS 2’s Weijia Jiang. “You never know when it’s your last call.”
“It’s a shock to me,” said cousin Robert Wieczezak. “I couldn’t believe it. It was his whole life.”
Barnas was a 29-year veteran of the Jersey City Fire Department. He was also a 40-year volunteer with the Wallington Fire Department and served as chief in Wallington in 1997.
“I can’t even think of the words to express our sorrow,” Tomko said. “Our department is deeply hurt.”
As a younger man, Barnas moved up the ranks to captain in the Jersey City Fire Department.
“My heart goes out to the family,” JCFD Chief Darren Rivers said. “My heart is broken.”
Barnas’ two sons are also firefighters. They were both there tackling the fire Friday alongside their dad.
“I said ‘now you have to carry on in his stead,'” Tomko said he told Barnas’ sons. “That’s the best way of saluting him.”
Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said arson investigators believe the fire was accidental, caused by an electrical fixture in the kitchen.
Firefighters will present Barnas’ helmet to his family, symbolizing his ultimate sacrifice.
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