Firefighter Jeff Dean remembered as loving father, 'Canadian skydiving icon'

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Ottawa firefighter Jeff Dean, an accomplished skydiver, is seen shortly before making a jump in this photo from 2018. The 45-year-old died Wednesday in a landing gone wrong at the Arnprior Airport. (Skydive Ratings Canada/Facebook - image credit)
Ottawa firefighter Jeff Dean, an accomplished skydiver, is seen shortly before making a jump in this photo from 2018. The 45-year-old died Wednesday in a landing gone wrong at the Arnprior Airport. (Skydive Ratings Canada/Facebook - image credit)

On the ground, Jeffrey Dean was a firefighter. But in the air, thousands of metres above the earth, he was a "Canadian skydiving icon."

Friends and community members in Fitzroy Harbour, the rural Ottawa village he called home, are remembering the 45-year-old as a devoted father, an expert skydiver and the kind of person who was always eager to help others.

Dean died Wednesday afternoon after attempting a landing near the Arnprior Airport.

"Jeff was one of the most accomplished and experienced skydivers in the country, was a true mentor to a lot of people for a very long time," said Jake Mason, owner of Parachute Ottawa.

He described Dean as a "true master of the craft of skydiving."

In a statement shared Thursday morning, Parachute Ottawa said Dean had more than 4,000 jumps under his belt.

His parachute deployed and was working correctly but he was injured while landing following an "advanced parachute maneuver," according to the company.

He's survived by his wife and two daughters.

Ottawa Fire Services
Ottawa Fire Services

'A zest for life'

Fitzroy Harbour is a small, close-knit community, and several residents said they were shocked by Dean's death.

Kelly Tucker lives just up the road from the family. She said she knows them well and they're "devastated" by the loss.

"He was a great dad. Loved his kids," she said. "[He was] just a really kind soul that just liked helping people and had a real passion for skydiving."

Dean was a shy, quiet person, Tucker said, but the one thing he'd talk about with anyone was his love of skydiving.

His wife, she said, told her he'd "pushed the limits and tried a lot of daring things" since he was a kid.

"He just had a zest for life and it's a tragedy that he's gone so soon," she said.

Like most people who live in Fitzroy Harbour, Dean stopped at Tejal Marfatia's shop to pick up a snack or the mail.

Marfatia said he was quiet, but known around the village for being hardworking and willing to lend a hand.

"It's very ... saddening news," said Marfatia. "It's a tragic thing to happen to somebody so young and doing such a good adventurous thing."

Dan Taekema/CBC
Dan Taekema/CBC

Ottawa Fire Services Chief Paul Hutt said Dean joined as a volunteer firefighter in 2010 and became a permanent member in 2012.

He was a "beloved" member of the service, the chief wrote on Twitter before sharing his condolences to Dean's family and friends.

Community rallying to support family

Both the Ontario Provincial Police and the Ministry of Labour are investigating the incident. Parachute Ottawa said it's working with police.

In a statement to CBC, the ministry said it was notified of a fatality in Arnprior Wednesday, stating the person who died was self-employed under the brand Skydive Ratings Canada. An inspector has been assigned to investigate.

A statement posted on Facebook by Skydive Ratings Canada said Dean was one of the founders of a project aimed at helping young skydivers develop as coaches and instructors.

It described Dean as a "Canadian skydiving icon," role model and coach for others in the community.

Dean was an "avid rock climber, motorcycle enthusiast, mountain biker and a staple of the Ottawa community," the post added. He also led a program called Fire Venturers, which helped youth experience the career, and was a "true hero in our community."

Dean met his wife skydiving, the post said, and his entire family had taken up the pursuit.

Tucker said Fitzroy Harbour is shaken up by what happened, but the village is already banding together to surround the family with love and support, sharing condolences and cooking meals while they mourn.

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