Death of Pierre Lacroix: a risky rescue in the forbidden zone


The firefighters who came to the aid of two boaters in distress on the evening of October 17, 2021 never considered abandoning the operation even if they entered a zone prohibited to navigation, that of the Lachine rapids. On the second day of the Coroner’s Office inquest into the death of Pierre Lacroix, the deceased firefighter’s teammates recounted the difficult rescue in which they participated on Tuesday.

Trained as a coxswain, firefighter Robin Brunet-Paiement piloted the boat that came to the aid of the pleasure boat which was drifting towards the Lachine rapids in the early evening. The boat on board which he was with his three colleagues – including Pierre Lacroix – was heading at full speed towards the boat in difficulty.

On the radio waves, messages insistent informing the rescuers that boaters were dangerously approaching the Lachine rapids. This countdown irritated the helmsman and the crew were not sure if they could join the boat in distress before it reached the stormy waters.

It is that since 2010, lifeguards are required not to intervene in the prohibited zone of the Lachine rapids because of the significant risks. But the limits of this area are not marked and on board the boat, the GPS did not allow the crew to know whether or not they were in this area. Only a map inside the boat showed a hatched area.

But that evening, no one gave the order to the firefighters to turn back and on board, there was never any question of abandoning the boaters to their fate. “We were the last resort. There was no one else. Of course it was dark. But our mission was to go for it,” explained Robin Brunet-Paiement.

His two colleagues Michael Maillé and Lieutenant François Rabouin, who also testified on Tuesday, confirmed that the idea of ​​giving up the rescue never crossed their minds.

Robin Brunet-Paiement described in the menu the maneuvers he made to approach the yachtsmen’s boat which was then in rough seas. The delicate operation went wrong. The lifeboat having suddenly capsized, the four firefighters fell into the water.

Lieutenant François Rabouin found himself trapped under the boat. Once freed from its awkward position, it was swept away in the rapids. “I was completely disoriented. I was exhausted. I told myself that it was over and that I was going to die there. I didn’t know how much time I had left in the rapids. I had my dose,” he said, recalling those trying times.

He will finally be brought back on the boat of yachtsmen like his colleagues Robin Brunet-Paiement and Michael Maillé. But Pierre Lacroix is ​​still missing. It was only around 3 a.m. that his body was found under the overturned lifeboat.


Helmsman Robin Brunet-Paiement admitted that he still wondered if the approach maneuvers, which ended in the death of Pierre Lacroix, were the most appropriate in the circumstances. “The approach was not perfect. But for me, it’s the only option I saw in the short term. Of course, it’s been over a year and after much research and discussion, we’re still trying to find a better way to board this boat. I haven’t found any yet. […] After a year, there are many questions that remain unanswered”. The lack of training of water rescuers may have worked against him, he said.

Present during the hearings, the eldest daughter of Pierre Lacroix, Stéphanie Lacroix, wanted to reassure the firefighter. “It’s really important to me that you know it’s not your fault. […] I sincerely hope that one day, you will take away this guilt. She also warmly thanked each of her father’s teammates.

Insufficient training

In the morning, Lieutenant Sylvain Dominique, who worked at the command post from the shore, recognized that the training of the nautical rescuers had gaps. « We don’t practice in dangerous areas. We don’t practice when the weather is bad, only when the weather is nice. There is no whitewater training,” he lamented.

He also pointed out that even a year after the tragic event, the Montreal Fire Department had still not done an internal « debriefing » to assess the progress of operations and the decisions that had been made. evening there.

The hearings chaired by coroner Géhane Kamel, which are taking place at the Joliette courthouse, continue on Wednesday.

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