Alumni honoured for bravery
Kyle Walker and Matthew Crombeen, two alumni from Wilfrid Laurier University, received the Medal of Bravery from Governor General David Johnston on Feb. 8 at Rideau Hall in Ottawa for their efforts in trying to save a student from a fire at Waterloo College Hall (WCH) in April of 2009.
While the two Laurier grads were humbled to be given the award, they both noted that it only came due to a loss — and one they won’t easily forget.
“I was definitely surprised [about getting the award], it’s something that happened way back in 2009, so to get a phone call late 2012, you don’t really prepare for that, it’s been quite awhile,” explained Walker, who, as the floor’s don, shared a bathroom with the student who passed away in the WCH fire.
“It’s not lost on me how few of these medals they give out each year and how high in regard they hold them with the Canadian government.”
“But that was a result of someone losing their life, so that makes it tough, right?” he added.
Both Walker and Crombeen were dons in WCH when the fire occurred.
According to the citation for the medal, it was noted that Walker and Crombeen noticed smoke coming from a room in WCH and upon entering the room they found the victim on fire.
They put out the flames and brought the student outside to wait for emergency services. The victim, first-year student Dave LaForest, succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.
“It’s something that’s never going to leave you, it’s always in the back of your mind, you come to terms with it. What happened, happened, there’s nothing we can change about it now,” explained Crombeen.
Months following the fire, the Waterloo Regional Police Services determined that the fire was started by the victim.
For Walker, this has a sparked a movement towards mental health initiatives, some of which he has done through his job as director of member services at the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union.
“Being in the role that I’m in now, to be able to work on some great support programs for students, is kind of for me in a way with how I’ve dealt with it the best because I’m looking forward to find a solution and not getting caught with what happened in the past,” continued Walker.
“The one thing that we know and acknowledge is that we can’t assume all students are ready for university when they get here.”
Crombeen, who is now a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, echoed Walker’s remarks, “It just brings to light that there are people out there who may be fighting with something. You have to be very attentive to what everyone is doing and what everyone is going through.”
Walker and Crombeen were able to reconnect over the weekend in Ottawa and go over the events that happened.
“The thing that Matthew and I talked about this weekend is that it’s also not lost on us that any don in that situation would’ve done the exact same thing,” he explained.
“The fact that we received this medal and that we were there at the time, it really just comes down that we were there at the time.”
In addition to receiving the award, Walker added that it was an honour to hear Johnston speak and to be able to talk with him following the ceremony. Kitchener-Waterloo MP Peter Braid was also in attendance.
“So we [Walker and Crombeen] had some good chances to reflect on that this weekend, but it’s also, we were treating this past weekend as finally closing the books on this and moving on,” said Walker.