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Two volunteer firefighters die battling blaze in Southwest Ontario

Fallen firefighters Ken Rea (left) and Raymond Walter. Courtesy of North Perth Fire Service.

The bodies of two volunteer firefighters were removed from the charred remains of a dollar store in Listowel Ont., on Friday — a day after they were killed while valiantly trying to douse the blaze.

The deceased men have been identified as 30-year-old Raymond Walter from Listowel, and 56-year-old Kenneth Rea from Atwood, Ont. — both members of the North Perth Volunteer Fire Department.

“As firefighters, we know the risk of what we do, but times like this you just don’t prepare for,” said
Ed Smith, North Perth Fire Chief.

Rea, a deputy district chief at the Atwood station, was a married father of six.

“He loved the fire department — that was his life,” Rea’s wife Louise said. “He was very dedicated.”

Friends in the tight-knit community collectively mourned.

“You couldn’t have met a more dedicated firefighter than Ken Rea was,” said family friend Emmie Bowers.  “It’s hard to understand, it’s hard to take.”

“He was a good neighbour, he’d do anything for you,” added  Fred Scholl.  “It’s just one of these unfortunate things that happen.”

Emergency crews were called to the scene on Main Street West in Listowel, about an hour northwest of Kitchener, around 3:30 p.m. when a fire broke out at the Dollar Stop store, where roofers had previously been working.

OPP said shortly after arriving, the two firefighters were unaccounted for. After searching the building, they were declared dead of injuries sustained while fighting the fire.  Investigators believe the roof of the structure collapsed.

“We’ll be continuing over the next days to complete this investigation on several fronts working with the Coroner and working at this particular fire scene,” said Chris Williams, Fire Marshal’s office.

In the meantime, a community has lost two men revered for their selflessness and courage.

“I know that I am speaking on behalf of the whole…of North Perth when I say how saddened we are as a community … to share this tragic loss,” North Perth Mayor Julie Behrns said.

“We thank all of our volunteer firefighters and their families for their dedication protecting us.”

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty released this statement after receiving the news:

“I was saddened to learn today of the death of two volunteer firefighters in Listowel. On behalf of all Ontarians, I would like to express my condolences to the family and friends and colleagues of these two brave men.”

So far, there’s no word on the cause of the blaze. Industrial machinery was brought in to help clear the way so investigators could get inside the heavily-damaged building.

“It is tragic and we have a tremendous amount of respect when the majority of the firefighters in the province of Ontario are volunteers, men and women, who give of themselves because they care for their community,” Wayne Romaine, a supervisor with the Fire Marshal’s Office, said.

With files from The Canadian Press.