PLATTSBURGH — For firefighters and EMS volunteers, seeing tragedy is part of everyday life.They do what they have to do and then go home to their families, often wishing they could have done more.Former Champlain volunteer firefighter and ambulance squad member Patrick Barriere learned first-hand a couple of years ago what it was like to be on the other side of the flames.On Dec. 23, 2005, a light bulb draped by a jacket in a "junk" closet started a fire that destroyed the Champlain home where Barriere lived with his three daughters.
Barriere, who works at CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh, had brought his oldest daughter, Melanie, to Pennsylvania to spend Christmas with her mother.Barriere's other daughter, Sydney, and son, Skyler, were spending Christmas in Hawaii.Returning late to Plattsburgh and knowing he had an early shift at the hospital the next morning, Barriere opted to spend the night with his girlfriend, Megan McCarthy.The next day, his father, Rene Barriere, not aware of his son's schedule, stopped by the Champlain home for a visit. Having a gut feeling that something wasn't right, he tried to open the door in the garage that led to the house and found it was hot.Walking from the garage to make a telephone call for help, he noticed haze. He said that looking through the windows was like looking through black construction paper.
Learning about the fire third-hand, Barriere rushed to Champlain."While I was watching the fire, I was upset; I was devastated; but it was a structure. Watching these guys (firefighters) going in, I was more scared and worried about them; I didn't want anybody to get hurt. They were my friends, people that I have known for years."Luckily, nobody was injured.He remembers being there with his house in ashes."Moments after the last fire truck drove away, that is when the pressure fell. It probably was the worst feeling of my life."His parents were going to Florida for the winter, so he could stay at their house, and Megan had her apartment close to the hospital.So, although he had just lost his home, Barriere felt thankful for what he had.
Barriere, who now lives in Plattsburgh, said the support he received was phenomenal but overwhelming for a man who always tried to do for others.He had help from "CVPH and all of the departments, personal friends, my mom and dad's personal friends, Lake Champlain Cardiology (where Megan works) and all of the fire departments."Even though the support was plentiful, accepting it was difficult."It was the macho thing," he says now. "I always helped people on the ambulance. Helping people is a great feeling. To be the one receiving the help felt very odd, very odd."
The day before Christmas, Megan had to finish her shopping. The couple went to Burlington, and it was as they entered Best Buy that Barriere broke down and the reality of the previous day set in.Losing his home was difficult, but losing precious memories was even harder.He described a corner of the house where, each year, on their birthdays, the children would inscribe the year and their height. That is now gone forever."I was always the one coming into the house and helping people in distress or people who had something tragic happen to them. The roles were reversed. I needed help, but I didn't want to accept it."I thought I was strong enough to handle it. But I think I was in shock."