Last Thursday night the small town of Listowel Ontario, located approximately 60 km North/West of Kitchener, saw a commercial fire turn tragic as the lives of two of their volunteer firefighters were lost battling the fire. Firefighters Kenneth Rae 56 and Raymond Walter 30, were both killed when the roof of the burning Dollar Store collapsed upon them, one other firefighter was also injured but thankfully lived through the experience. The bodies of the two men were finally recovered from the rubble almost 23 hours after the blaze initially broke out. At this time the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the cause of the fire and figure it will take several days until the results are conclusive. Sadly the fire department and their staff will also be under close scrutiny during this difficult time as the Ministry of Labour will be investigating the circumstances of the fire and what lead to the deaths of the two firefighters.
Listowel is a typical small Ontario town, it lies within the municipality of North Perth and has a population of approximately 6000 people. Not unlike Russell and most small communities in the province, the town is served by a volunteer fire department. Actually volunteer departments outnumber full-time departments by a drastic number, currently there are 465 total departments registered in the province, 259 of those are composed entirely by a volunteer staff, 175 are composite and only 31 are full-time departments. Volunteer firefighters also make up approximately 63% of the total number of firefighters in the entire province, totaling to over 19,000 men and women willing to protect their communities for little or no pay. Volunteer firefighters choose to take on this role in their communities for a number of reasons; some feel it will be an adventure, some for the camaraderie, others because there is a family history of doing so. However the common response given whenever you ask most volunteer firefighters why they do it, is because they want to give back to the community. I have been with the Russell Fire Department for almost seven years, and I can attest that I have never been associated with a group of people who are more willing to give of their time and efforts than this group. It is also because of my association with these men and women that I understand the sadness that the firefighters and the families of the North Perth Fire Department must be going through right now. The members of a volunteer fire department become more than just associates, they become your friends, the families become close and when you hear the term “Brotherhood” there is no truer expression that could be used. The entire staff of the Russell Fire Department would like to express our deepest sympathies to the comrades and families of Kenneth Rae and Raymond Walter, sleep well brothers.
Published in the Villager newspaper March 23, 2011
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