Fallen Montreal firefighter laid to rest

Godfrind tried for 16 years to join the fire department before being hired at 37 years old

By Sidhartha Banerjee 
The Waterloo Region Record

MONTREAL — A Montreal firefighter who died in highly unusual circumstances in the line of duty took 16 years to land his dream job - on his 37th birthday.

As thousands of firefighters gathered Friday to pay a final tribute to Thierry Godfrind, the story of his commitment to the profession came to light.

The 39-year-old first tried to become a firefighter in 1994, but found himself with few job prospects at the end of his studies. Godfrind moved on, getting a degree in business administration and working in a field related to his academic achievements.

But the urge to be a firefighter never left him.

That devotion eventually cost Godfrind his life when he was struck July 13 by a fire truck that had transported him to the scene of a blaze.

"It's a calling, it's not just a job," said Richard Liebmann, a division chief with the Montreal fire department.

Liebmann did not know Godfrind, but learned the late firefighter returned to school and earned a college degree in fire prevention in 2008. He spent two years volunteering in a small town before Montreal came calling in 2010.

"He was hired on his 37th birthday (March 15), so it was his dream and even though he tried to do something else, he ultimately came back to the fire service because it was something that called to him very strongly," Liebmann said.

One man who took classes with him in 1994 said Godfrind was courteous and nice and in his element at the academy.

Paolo Rehel said the timing was poor as Montreal had gone on major hiring sweeps in 1992 and again in 1994 just before he completed classes.

"He finished in 1994 and finally found work in 2010, so it gives you an idea of his personality," said Rehel, who now works in the union movement.

"He never gave up, it took him 16 years, but he never gave in, which is really impressive."

Godfrind leaves behind his parents, a sister and a girlfriend.

They gathered with thousands of firefighters from Montreal and across North America to pay their final respects during a private funeral service at the Notre-Dame Basilica in Old Montreal.

Godfrind's casket arrived on top of a fire truck, after an estimated 2,000 Montreal firefighters marched along with colleagues from other cities including Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa and some U.S. cities. It took about an hour for the procession to make its way to the basilical.

They were joined by other emergency service personnel such as police officers and paramedics.

Godfrind was the first Montreal firefighter to die while on duty since 2006.

Copyright 2012 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.
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