Colleagues of drowned Montreal firefighter recall when their boat capsized

A Montreal firefighter told the coroner’s inquest on Tuesday he was desperate to stay afloat and find his colleagues in the stormy waters of the Lachine Rapids after the boat carrying them capsized during a rescue attempt. .

Robin Brunet-Paiement said he knew he and his colleagues were in dangerous waters when they stopped on a broken down boat with two people on board on October 17, 2021, although he did not realized how far they had gone in the rapids.

He told the inquest into the drowning death of colleague Pierre Lacroix that he was trying to maneuver the craft to a more stable position when he felt a wave hit.

Their boat collided with the pleasure craft and he saw water coming towards him. The next thing he knew was that he was under HammerHead’s overturned lifeboat.

The Montreal Firefighters Association called for the suspension of water rescues a few months after Lacroix’s death. (Submitted by the Montreal Firefighters Association)

« I remember I ended up on the ceiling (of the boat), » he said. « The lights illuminated the boat and I saw pebbles on the bottom of the water. »

Coroner Géhane Kamel is presiding over hearings that are expected to last two weeks at the courthouse in Joliette, Que., about 75 kilometers northeast of Montreal. She told firefighters her goal was not to assign blame but rather to prevent future tragedies.

Brunet-Paiement managed to extricate himself and climb onto the overturned boat, shouting at his colleagues. Fellow firefighter Michael Maille rode alongside him, but they were both quickly swept away by another wave, he testified.

He said that eventually, as he struggled to breathe in the water, he managed to catch up with his other colleague, François Rabouin, who was in bad shape.

« I told him that I wouldn’t leave him, that we would finish this together, » he said.

Rescuers rescued

Eventually they headed for the pleasure boat, which had not capsized, and were pulled aboard by the two occupants. Later, Brunet-Paiement directed a rescue boat to a light in the water, hoping it was his other two missing colleagues.

Shortly after, that boat returned, but only one of the remaining missing firefighters was on board.

« That’s when I realized Pierre was dead, » he said.

Maille told the inquest he was the only one of the four who was not initially pinned under the boat. He says he saw Brunet-Paiement and Rabouin come out, but not Lacroix.

Maille told the inquest he was able to make an initial « mayday » call before he was swept from the hull of the boat into the water.

Rabouin, for his part, said he never saw Lacroix again after the boat capsized. By the time he escaped from under the boat he was exhausted and disoriented and convinced he was going to die, he said.

His last memory of his friend, he said, was on the boat in the chaotic last minutes when the wave hit. Lacroix was trying to lift his collar to keep the water out of his raincoat, and the two exchanged a look.

« He was always smiling, » he said.

Artistic shot of a woman looking to her left.
Coroner Géhane Kamel says the purpose of the inquest is not to assign blame but rather to prevent a similar death from happening again. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Stéphanie Lacroix, daughter of Pierre Lacroix, spoke to each of the firefighters at the end of their testimony. In a tearful exchange, she told Brunet-Paiement and Rabouin that she had known them since she was a young girl and did not want them to blame each other.

« I will love you unconditionally until the end of my life, » she told them.

Earlier Tuesday, Lt. Sylvain Dominique of the Montreal Fire Department testified that despite considerable effort from water, shore and air, rescuers did not look under the capsized HammerHead boat in the first hours after the accident.

Dominique, who worked at a command post from shore, told the inquest the capsized lifeboat was located less than an hour after the accident but was stuck at the bottom of the river and could not be reached. immediately returned.

He says he ordered search parties to ignore the boat and instead focus on finding Lacroix in open water, as he thought the firefighter was likely already dead if he was stuck below.

« Given the time that has passed, if Pierre was under the boat, nothing could be done, » he said.

It wasn’t until around 3 a.m. — some seven and a half hours after the accident — that a Montreal police underwater camera determined that Lacroix’s body was trapped under the capsized boat.

Dominique told the inquest that he was unaware that the Montreal police had underwater cameras capable of looking under the hull of the boat. If he had known, he would have asked for them, he said.

He later told a lawyer for the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité au travail du Québec that he felt the nautical team lacked adequate equipment, including proper maps, waterproof radios and trackers. Personal GPS.


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