A snowmobiler who died after falling through ice in the Kawartha Lakes area over the weekend has been identified as a Toronto firefighter who was a father of three.

Emergency crews responded to Sturgeon Lake, southwest of Bobcaygeon, at around 6 p.m. on Jan. 20 after two snowmobilers fell through the ice about 100 metres from shore.

Bystanders rushed to help the men and were able to get a 46-year-old man out of the icy water. He was transported to hospital with serious injuries.

However the second man – identified by OPP Monday as 48-year-old Earl Strong of Courtice, Ont. – could not be found.

Search crews, including a helicopter and an underwater unit, searched the lake and finally located Strong’s body at around 4 p.m. on Sunday.  

Toronto Fire Services confirmed Monday that Strong was a Toronto firefighter who spent 26 years at East Command.

“Our sincere condolences to friends and family of active member Acting Capt Earl Strong who died tragically on Jan 20th while off-duty. In our hearts and minds...” Toronto Fire said in a tweet.

Chief Matthew Pegg also tweeted about Strong’s death.

“Deeply saddened by the tragic off-duty accident that has claimed the life of @Toronto_Fire Acting Captain Earl Strong,” Pegg wrote. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and crew members.”

A notice on the Toronto Professional Firefighters’ Association Sunday identified Strong as an acting captain currently posted at Station 211-B in Scarborough’s Armdale neighbourhood.

“His coworkers are devastated. He was extremely popular and well-liked,” TPFFA President Frank Ramagnano told CP24.com. “We have a lot of very upset members right now.”

Ramagnano said Strong was married and had three sons.

Kevin McCarthy, a colleague who knew Strong for years, told CTV News Toronto that he was “a great firefighter.”

“He was larger than life,” McCarthy said. “He could always make you laugh and he was a wonderful person to be around.”

Others who knew Strong took to social media Monday to remember him as a man who brought happiness to others.

“Here’s to the man that brought so many people happiness throughout their lives,” wrote one Twitter user who identified himself as Brody. “Whenever Earl was around I always had a smile on my face.”

Strong’s death comes as OPP issued a notice warning that 27 snowmobilers lost their lives in Ontario last year – the deadliest season for snowmobiling deaths in almost 15 years. OPP issued the notice Saturday as they kicked off Safe Snowmobile Week and urged snowmobilers to avoid risky behaviours that tend to lead to fatalities.

However Ramagnano said it would be premature to draw any conclusions about what happened until OPP have finished investigating and called it “extremely inappropriate” for people to chime in on social media about what may have led to Strong’s death.

Ramagnano noted that the two snowmobilers weren’t too far from shore when they went into the water and said it can be easy to confuse the lake for the shore in winter.   

An autopsy is set to be conducted in Toronto this week to determine the exact cause of death, police said.

Ramagnano said the TPFFA will be assisting Strong’s family with funeral arrangements later this week.