More than 2 1/2 years after his death, the city recognized Barnes as a local hero with a street renaming at the corner of 53rd Drive and 63rd Place in Maspeth, where he grew up.
Barnes, who was 38 when he died, is survived by an extended family that was there to recite poetry, sing and recount fond stories in his honor.
"To the family he was our hero," nephew Christian Barnes said. "He was a family man."
Barnes told stories of his Uncle Matt's practical jokes, one of which involved the elder Barnes repeatedly unscrewing another family member's light bulbs from a menorah.
"Wouldn't life be better today if we could share these memories with him?" Christian Barnes asked.
Since the Ladder 25 firefighter's death, Barnes said the family has met many celebrities and even the entire Mets team in ceremonies honoring the Sept. 11 victims.
"You can't watch a Mets game without him being there," Christian Barnes said. "I want to thank God for giving Uncle Matt to us, even if it wasn't for a long time."
Matthew Barnes' brother-in-law, Dan Fine, said the firefighter was not defined solely by his actions on the day of the terrorist attacks.
"Long before Sept. 11, everyone who knew Matt knew him as a hero," Fine said.
During Matthew Barnes' tenure in the New York Fire Department, he was honored with the Honor Legion Medal for saving two 6-week-old babies from a fire.
Matthew Barnes joined the Fire Department in 1990, after growing up in Brooklyn and Maspeth and graduating from Grover Cleveland High School.
He is survived by his wife Susan and three sons, Matthew, Jesse and Thomas.
His cousin, Stacey Pupplo, recited a poem she wrote for the firefighters who were killed on Sept. 11.
"I watched the buildings collapse and I knew that he was there," she said. "In our society, I believe they are the bravest of us all."
After a short ceremony on the sporadically rainy morning, the city revealed the "Firefighter Matthew E. Barnes Drive" street sign.
"Anything is fitting to remember him," Fine said.
Barnes' mother, Yvette Mell, still lives in the home where the firefighter grew up.
"The question is, can we now send mail to her with that as her street address?" Fine asked.
Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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