Thousands of people gathered in the small community of Listowel, Ont. for the funeral of two volunteer firefighters on Thursday.

Ray Walter, 30, and Ken Rea, 56, died a week ago while fighting a fire at a dollar store in downtown Listowel after part of the building's roof collapsed.

Upwards of 10,000 firefighters were expected to be at the funeral. Other emergency service workers and dignitaries from across the province and beyond were also in attendance, including Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Local residents lined the streets and businesses were closed for a procession through downtown Listowel along Main Street and Maitland Avenue to Listowel Memorial Arena, where the funeral took place.

About 100 personnel from the Kitchener Fire Department were in Listowel, with five firefighters staffing the Atwood fire station to allow the colleagues of those who died to attend the service.

Two heroes remembered

Ken Rea, who lived in nearby Atwood, was a volunteer firefighter for 37 years. He was, in fact, a founding member of the Atwood Fire Department and served as the deputy district fire chief.

He is remembered as a dedicated volunteer, and leaves behind his wife of over 35 years, Louise, three daughters and three grandchildren.

Atwood Fire Capt. Scott Smith noted that Rea a calming influence who was so committed to his work, that he bought the house next door to the fire hall.

At the service, Rea's daughters said they wish they could have said goodbye, but their father died doing what he loved to do, protecting his family and the community, and he will always be "Our dad, our friend, our hero."

Ray Walter followed his father when he joined the North Perth Fire Department in 2008. He also served the community as vice-president of the Listowel Kinsmen.

Listowel Fire Capt. Ron Schildroth recalled the joy when Walter joined the station, and says everyone at the station shares the same sense of loss.

The Kinsmen Club of Listowel has established the Ray Walter Memorial Fund for community projects. Donations can be made at any Bank of Montreal or directly to the Kinsmen Club.

Derrick Frook, Walter's cousin-in-law, recalled his love for his younger sister, and an all or nothing attitude.

He leaves behind his wife, Holly. The two were married in 2009.

North Perth Mayor Julie Behrns acknowledged "the overwhelming love and support" that has poured in from Listowel residents, neighbouring communities and across the country.