I’ve been struggling for days to decide what to write regarding my feelings about the tragedy that struck our community last week. In all honesty, I’ve been struggling to even verbalize my feelings about it and it takes a lot to make me speechless. It is so hard to grasp a tragedy like this, so hard to comprehend.
For those who read my blog and aren’t from Ontario or haven’t heard about the devastating news, last Thursday, March 17th, I opened my facebook page just after supper the read repeated messages from people in my local area who were thinking and praying for the volunteer firemen who’d lost their lives. I searched local media sources to find out more info and quickly learned that a fire in my municipality had broke out at a store, 6 different fire detachments were battling the blaze and it had resulted in the unbelievable loss of two volunteer firemen from the area. I desperately began to search for what detachment these 2 men were from, thinking of those firefighters from our community who I knew were there… our friends, Dad’s of our kids friends, members of our church, coaches of our kids sports teams, neighbours and fellow Kin family members and hoping that it wasn’t one of these people, not one of the North Perth Firemen, though I knew it didn’t really matter. When I learned the men were from Listowel and Atwood my heart sank and when I learned that one of them was, indeed, someone I knew of from Kin, I could feel the sting of tears.
It was a surreal experience the next day as I went to Listowel to carry on with the planned Kinsmen and Kinette event. Everywhere you looked there was media present, every corner I turned I came across barriers blocking roads, vehicles on normally empty streets and people watching for the crippling moment when the bodies of these firemen would be taken from the burnt out building.
All around me all weekend were reminders of how much these men impacted our community and how much a crisis like this affects everyone. Tears, hugs, and shocked looks seemed everywhere. How could this have happened to one of our own? How could this have happened to a volunteer fireman?
The media attention that this crisis produced was almost overwhelming. Everywhere you turned there were media vehicles, reporters, cameras, videographers. It felt so invasive and intrusive. I couldn’t believe how much I hated it and yet how much I wanted to watch the footage at home. I began to realize how much those who aren’t affected by crisis really don’t appreciate the pain that those who are experience when their lives become so public.
The other thing that became overwhelming to me was actually a good thing in a sense. It was a feeling of comradeship, of friendship and of belonging. I haven’t been in the family of Kin for a long time… 14 months or so. I haven’t participated as much as I would have liked until recently and suddenly I found myself with my Kin brothers and sisters in the midst of a crisis and knowing that we were helping each other to cope, to survive. I am so proud to call myself a member of Kin Canada.
This moment was first apparent to me as our group gathered together with our Paddyfest attire on, black bands on our arms and walked on to the stage at the dance as a family. The entire crowd, over 1200 people, were very quickly silent as we offered up a moment of silence for our fellow Kin Ray and his fellow fireman, Ken. It gave me hope for humanity and it also made me feel so connected to this group. The second time this became apparent was the following day as our Kin family once again joined together and walked the parade route in honour of Ray. It was a surreal experience….this quiet group of friends walking along as people on the streets looked on. Many had tears in their eyes as they grieved the loss of a member of their community, others had tears or looks of compassion as they watched our groups faces, very somber, many hurting. Hard moments for me came as people would clap for us as it made me realize just how much everyone respected this organization I belonged to, an organization known for supporting others, supporting their community and so in need of support right now. Harder moments though came as our group encountered firefighters openly weeping and harder yet, encountering Ray’s parents and family and finally his wife, Holly. It was at this moment that I first felt the need to cry and weep for all that our community had lost.
Later that day, at home, I did this. I cried for the loss of these good men and I cried for the loss of our innocence in a sense. We, humanity, is so naïve to the risks that volunteer firemen take each and every time they go out on a call. We seem to know the risks for police officers and soldiers and perhaps even for those professional firefighters who fight huge blazes in large urban centres. But most of us have never given a thought to those, mostly unpaid, volunteers who gather every few weeks to train to fight fires, who give their time and sadly their lives to keep us safe. I never really understood this risk, this sacrifice and I wish that I didn’t know it as closely as I do now…and I’m pretty sure all of the citizens protected by the firemen of North Perth would agree with me.
I can promise you that I will never forget it again and I will not forget to support them in the days, weeks and months ahead. Nor will I ever forget again to say thank you to these volunteer heroes.
Ray and Ken – you will be sadly missed and never forgotten for the ultimate sacrifice you made. This Irish blessing seems only fitting given the date of your passing…
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.