Nearly every morning, Sean DeMuynck watched firefighter training videos, trying to soak up knowledge as he embraced a new role as a volunteer with the Penn Wynne-Overbrook Fire Company.
He took pictures of compartments inside his fire station’s trucks, memorizing the equipment they contained and their locations.
He didn’t like to take walks too far from his home in Overbrook, not wanting to miss a call for service, said his wife, Melissa Richard-Greenblatt.
And even though he was less than two days from returning to Canada — the end of a two-year stay in Philadelphia for the couple as Richard-Greenblatt pursued a fellowship at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania — DeMuynck answered a final call late last Sunday, responding to a house fire in Wynnewood. The 35-year-old became trapped on the third floor and was pronounced dead shortly after.
“I’ve never seen him as passionate about anything as firefighting,” his wife said Saturday, facing hundreds of uniformed men and women and other mourners who filled the Lower Merion High School auditorium to remember DeMuynck’s life, his dedication to his volunteer position, and his commitment to a community that wasn’t going to be his permanent home.
Before the service began, a line of people wound through the auditorium toward the stage, hugging DeMuynck’s family near a table draped with a Lower Merion Fire Department banner, and holding a photo of DeMuynck and his wife, along with two folded flags.
“Thank you for teaching him everything he wanted to know,” Richard-Greenblatt said, addressing DeMuynck’s fire company. “Thank you for being the greatest friends he could ever have.”
Before DeMuynck showed up at the station in the summer of 2019, “no one could have imagined how wonderful and generous a person we would have in our lives,” said Ted Schmid, the fire company’s chief.
A native of Ontario, DeMuynck dreamed of being a firefighter but had first pursued another passion — hockey. He was drafted by a junior team in the Ontario Hockey League and went on to coach.
By 2017, he decided he wanted a career in firefighting. He was accepted into a top Canadian program, Richard-Greenblatt said. But when he saw her interest in the Philadelphia fellowship, DeMuynck told his wife that if she got an offer, she couldn’t turn it down.
“He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” said Richard-Greenblatt, a microbiologist. Together, “it felt like we could conquer the world.”
DeMuynck didn’t have a work visa but knew he wanted to pursue firefighting. He threw himself into his volunteer role with the Penn Wynne-Overbrook Fire Company — advancing through firefighting courses and sharing study guides he’d created with other firefighters, Schmid said.
“He had a tremendous work ethic,” which inspired others to improve, Schmid said.
He was also a committed friend. A self-taught handyman, DeMuynck was always ready to help out with projects, Schmid said. And he supplied a steady stream of good humor.
“Whenever Sean was in the firehouse, laughter could be heard,” Schmid said. “Jokes were always being made. Pictures snapped, without notice.”
DeMuynck’s father, Mark, recalled his son’s “infectious laugh and fun-loving nature.” A social person, his son had “many best friends,” he said.
“I can’t tell you how much I loved him,” he said.
Charles J. McGarvey, chief of the Lower Merion Fire Department, thanked DeMuynck’s family. “Know that your son died a true hero,” he said, choking up.
Before DeMuynck was taken to the hospital, “I remember looking down and seeing Sean’s face,” McGarvey said. “To be honest, I still see it.”
As the service ended, a group of uniformed firefighters rose and went toward the stage, taking turns striking a silver bell — five times each, four times in a row — in a “four fives” series historically used to notify firefighters of a death. Then a “last call” was played — the voice of a dispatcher, calling DeMuynck’s name with the time of the Wynnewood fire.
Outside the auditorium, hundreds of men and women in uniform flanked the road leading from the high school. A brigade of bagpipers and drummers led the march down the middle, followed by DeMuynck’s family.
A handful of community members watched from the side, including Leo Trout, 11, who wore a Penn Wynne Fire Station shirt with his name on it. Leo, who lives in Penn Wynne and has “always loved the fire station,” said DeMuynck always smiled when he visited and sat with him on the back of the fire trucks.
The turnout for DeMuynck “says a lot about who he was,” said Leo’s mother, Allison Trout. “It really does affect the whole community.”