Every Independence Day, the Penn Wynne-Overbrook Hills Fire Company holds a picnic lunch at the station for firefighters following the local Fourth of July parade.
But this year the lunch also doubled as a goodbye party for volunteer firefighter Sean DeMuynck, who was set to return to his homeland of Canada on July 6.
His wife, Melissa Richard Greenblatt, joined the celebration and Chief Ted Schmid presented Mr. DeMuynck, 35, with a fire company pin and one of the Lower Merion Township department’s original hoseman badges as a tribute to his service.
“I remember saying to him ‘This isn’t goodbye. This is we’ll see you later,’” Schmid said.
Neither man realized how soon later would come. At 10:34 that night, the department received a call for a house fire on Rosedale Road in Wynnewood.
Mr. DeMuynck’s mother, Barb DeMuynck, said her son was at home packing to go back to Canada when the call came in.
“So he went, because that’s the kind of guy he is,” she said. “If he could fight one more thing, he would do it, and give it everything he has.”
And he did.
Mr. DeMuynck died in the line of duty when he became trapped on the third floor of the house, where he was found unresponsive by rescue crews. He was pronounced dead at 12:22 a.m. at Lankenau Medical Center.
“Obviously, Sean went home in a different way a lot sooner,” Schmid said. “Knowing that he’s gone now is heartbreaking.”
As investigators continue to look into the cause of the fire and await Mr. DeMuynck’s autopsy results, those who knew and loved him remain in shock and mourning.
“He was just funny and kind and considerate and so handsome and the best son ever,” his mother said.
On Wednesday, first responders, friends, and strangers from across the region gathered along a miles-long procession route from the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office to Stretch Funeral Home in Havertown. Along the way, several ladder trucks raised flags in Mr. DeMuynck’s honor, while first responders and civilians held their hands in salute, or upon their hearts, as his hearse passed.
Barb DeMuynck, who rode in the procession, said the tribute to her son was “overwhelming and heartfelt.”
“It was just beyond anything I could ever imagine. I said to Melissa ‘Sean doesn’t like attention but he’s getting it now,’” his mother said. “He never did stuff to try and get attention, he was just so good at everything people just wanted to be around him.”
Mr. DeMuynck grew up in Strathroy, Ontario, where he began playing hockey at the age of 6 and was drafted at 15 by the Kingston Frontenacs, a junior ice hockey team in the Ontario Hockey League. He went on to play in the junior B league and became the video coach for the Windsor Spitfires from 2013 to 2017, the year they won the Memorial Cup.
Jerrod Smith, associate coach for the Spitfires, said Mr. DeMuynck had a love for the game, and the camaraderie that came with it.
“He was the kind of guy everybody loved to be around. He would go above and beyond his job description for us and was always willing to lend a hand,” Smith said. “He was just a selfless guy who I formed a great friendship with during his time in Windsor. We sure are going to miss him. It’s just heartbreaking.”
It was during his early days with the Frontenacs that Mr. DeMuynck first met his wife, who he dated as a teen until life took them on different paths. They met again six years ago and were married in March 2019.
Mr. DeMuynck was working as a manager at an automobile recycling plant when his wife, a microbiologist, received a two-year fellowship at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The couple moved to Overbrook in July 2019.
Within a month, Mr. DeMuynck, who had long dreamed of becoming a firefighter, began volunteering with the Penn Wynne-Overbrook Hills Fire Company.
Though his passion for the ice and firefighting may seem at odds, his mother said they both offered one thing he loved — being part of a team.
Schmid said Mr. DeMuynck not only pushed himself to be better, he pushed those around him to be better, too. He even built practice tests on the fire company’s server to help future firefighters study for their exams.
“He went out of his way to train himself to be a better person but also made time to help others train and be better,” Schmid said. “He was good for us and we were good for him.”
Mr. DeMuynck and his wife were just months into their two-year stay in the area when the coronavirus and quarantine hit. So the couple devoted themselves to their studies, and to one another.
“They’ve had only each other for the last two years through this pandemic and they’ve achieved great things, so I think they’re a pretty powerful couple,” Barb DeMuynck said. “They both achieved everything they wanted to do, and then some, and they were both coming home to the next stage of life.”
The couple had plans to start a family and Mr. DeMuynck was in the second stage of interviews with the Hamilton Fire Department in Ontario, his mother said.
“He wanted to be a firefighter for a long, long time,” she said. “I was proud of him.”
In addition to his wife and mother, Mr. DeMuynck is survived by his father and stepmother, Mark and Sue DeMuynck; his stepfather, Paul Maillet; sisters Tricia Willemse, Cassandra Wideman, Carly Jones and Samantha Liska; brother Chris Maillet, and several other relatives, friends, and teammates.
A public memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Lower Merion High School, 315 E. Montgomery Ave., Ardmore, Pa. Funeral services will be private.
The Penn Wynne-Overbrook Hills Fire Company is collecting donations in Mr. DeMuynck’s memory, which will go to his wife. A GoFundMe page has already raised more than $29,000. Checks, which should include “Firefighter Sean DeMuynck” in the memo line, may be sent to the fire company at 1440 Manoa Rd., Wynnewood, Pa. 19096.