Russell McLellan grew up just like Tom Burant and his family.
“He’s my unofficial adopted nephew,” Burant told CBC News.
The best friend of Burant’s own nephew, McLellan, became a “bigger than life” fixture in his life.
McLellan, 43, was factory manager at Eastway Tank. He is one of five missing employees presumed dead after an explosion at the company’s Merivale Road location last week. A sixth employee was taken to hospital after the explosion, where he succumbed to his injuries. A seventh is still in the hospital at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto.
On Thursday, when the news of the explosion and fire on Merivale Road broke out, Burant almost jokingly sent his friend a text message: “Hey is that you?”
“He never responded,” Burant said. “We just assumed he was busy with the evacuation and all.”
Then time passed and no one had heard from the “gentle giant”. It began to sink in for Burant and others that there was a problem.
“I was in shock,” he said. “To be honest, I’m still in denial.”
Recovery efforts continue this week
A tangle of agencies is now investigating the fatal explosion. Ottawa police said Sunday that the human remains of four people had been located by officials, but those bodies have not yet been found from the still unstable fire site or positively identified. Recovery efforts are expected to continue this week.
In his heart, Burant hopes it all somehow, despite the odds, is just a bad dream, and his buddy shows up at the lake this weekend.
“We all know it’s true and we’re all crushed.” The little bit of lingering hope helps make it easier.
“Russ was a gentle giant,” Burant said. “Russ was the guy who was always discreet and in the background, and the only time you really knew he was there is if you needed something, or needed help with something, or you just wanted to shoot the breeze. with someone, Russ was there. “
He was one of the hardest working men Burant had ever known. They fished together, hunted together, rode ATVs together.
Daughter was his ‘raison d’être’
Burants owns property on a “small lake in the valley” where McLellan had a trailer. He was there almost every weekend with his 15-year-old daughter – his “raison d’être”.
There was nothing or anyone more important to him, Burant said. “She was his reason for living.”
His daughter and wife are now crushed, Burant said.
The kids by the lake loved him too. He had a “big bag of candy” with him, which he happily handed out to the kids and hyped them up with sugar.
He, too, took great pride and satisfaction in his work as both a customer service employee and store manager.
“He just loved it,” Burant said. “He loved the guy he worked for, he loved Neil, the owner of Eastway. He just loved it, he found it very interesting and challenging.”
There was never a dull moment and there was always a new problem to solve.
“He was involved in the day-to-day handling of customers,” Burant said. “He loved it because he was a human being. Everyone who dealt with Russ was very happy and happy to have known him.”
Just want to ‘bring him home’
Burant does not know what happened Thursday afternoon, while witnesses reported hearing what sounded like an earthquake and repeated loud bangs before the soaring flames were discovered.
“All I know is that Russ never expressed any anxiety, any fear of any kind of dangers at work. Yes, they were in an industry dealing with some fleeting things, but I never heard him say, ‘ I’m worried about this, ” Burant said.
McLellan’s daughter and wife are struggling to sleep while officials wait for officials to find his body so they can get a hint of closure, even if it means removing the hope that makes it bearable right now.
“We’re all sitting on needles, we all want to know,” he said. “We just want to find Russ and bring him home.”