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Thousands mourn fallen volunteer firefighters

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

Thousands of emergency responders from across the province and the country gathered in Listowel, Ont. Thursday to pay respects to two volunteer firefighters killed in the line of duty.

Ray Walter, 30, and Ken Rea, 56 were killed last Thursday fighting a fire inside a dollar store in downtown Listowel when part of the building collapsed.

Their caskets were carried into the Listowel Memorial Arena as bagpipers played. Rea, a deputy district chief at the Atwood station, was a married father of six. Both men were members of the North Perth Volunteer Fire Department.

Rea’s daughter Sara Furey spoke through her tears, flanked by her sisters Amy Copland and Beth Rea.

“You were always there with a helping hand, a loving hug, and great words of wisdom,” Furey said, choking back sobs.

“You were a terrific husband to Mom, her best friend and her soulmate. You were a awesome dad. Raising three daughters must have been a challenge but being the dad you were, you were able to rise to the occasion and make our dreams come true.

“You were an outstanding grandfather to your three grandchildren, Jackson, Savannah, and Georgia.  So many things in this world will remind them of you. They will grow up knowing their grandpa was a hero – and they will always remember your moustache.

“You left us so unexpectedly, we didn’t get to say goodbye. When we learned of what you did, respect and honour overwhelmed us. You died doing what you love to do,” Furey said.

The three sisters hugged and then said together, “our dad, our friend, our hero.”

As many as 10,000 people attended the funeral in the small town about an hour northwest of Kitchener. The town organized a black ribbon campaign to honour Walter and Rea.

“I’m quite confident that Ray is watching and listening with that infectious smile,” Derrick Frook, Walter’s cousin-in-law, told the packed arena.

“He was raised by his parents Ron and Rosemary and was later blessed with a sister Rachel. He was so excited, he took her to school for show and tell.

“Rachel remembers always wanting to be around Ray, including blowing out the candles on his birthday cake,” Frook said.

Walter joined the fire department in June 2008, following in his father’s footsteps. The next year, in October 2009, he married Holly Van Oene.

“Ray treasured every moment with Holly and lay by her side every night as she fell asleep,” Frook said. 

Earlier this week there was a moment of silence at Queen’s Park to honour the fallen firefighters and flags at the Legislature were lowered to half-staff.

“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 last week.