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Montreal mayor, fire department pay tribute to firefighter who died during rescue operation

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Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante and the Montreal Fire Department paid tribute to firefighter Pierre Lacroix on Monday after his body was retrieved from the St. Lawrence River, where he died performing a water rescue.

Lacroix, a 58-year-old married father of two, went under the water Sunday night while assisting a boat in distress.

His body was later pulled from the water along with the vessel he became trapped under during the rescue.

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Montreal fire chief Richard Liebmann confirmed Monday morning that search and rescue crews, using an underwater camera, spotted the missing firefighter among the wreckage of the boat that sank in an “extremely dangerous” section of rapids.

“I have the most difficult duty a fire chief can have,” Liebmann said while announcing his death.

“Firefighter Lacroix made the ultimate sacrifice coming to the assistance of two people.”

Plante said that flags in the City of Montreal will be at half-mast in honour of the firefighter, who was based out of Fire Station 64 in the Montreal borough of Lachine

“The City of Montreal is a big family,” she said. “I invite the population to have a thought for all those who serve us, sometimes at the risk of their lives.”

Even after locating Lacroix’s body, the fire chief said it would take some time to recover him in the dangerous and fast-moving Lachine Rapids.

A rescue boat capsized while crews were assisting a boat in distress. A firefighter went under the water, and has since been spotted by a camera trapped under the wreckage of a boat underwater. 

The two people who first needed help were rescued successfully, though everyone involved ended up capsized at one point.

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According to Quebec provincial police, a boat carrying four Montreal firefighters went to the rescue of two people aboard another boat that lost power and ran into trouble in the Lachine Rapids sector, in the LaSalle borough, at approximately 7:10 p.m. on Sunday.

The two people got to safety, but for some reason, the firefighters’ boat capsized, plunging the rescue crew into the rapids.

“So the people that they rescued, they went in the water, along with the firefighters,” said Longueuil Fire Division Chief Stéphane Difruscia on Sunday night.

“But now, all those people are accounted for, except for one firefighter.”

Three other firefighters were rescued and transported to hospital, as were the two victims.

Several emergency services were mobilized to help search for Lacroix, with teams from the La Prairie, Longueuil, Varennes and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu fire departments working alongside their Montreal counterparts, along with water patrol officers from Montreal police and rescue teams from the Canadian Armed Forces.

Helicopter searches were also conducted at daybreak over the river and the shoreline.

REMINDER OF SACRIFICE

Hearing news that a member of emergency services fell in the line of duty prompted outpourings of support across the province and country.

Plante said it was a sad reminder that first responders are putting their lives on the line for the community’s protection.

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“On behalf of all Montrealers, I would like to offer my condolences to the members of the family as well as to all the firefighters of the SIM, and of firefighters union for the tragic loss of a father, a friend and a man of courage who died in service,” Plante wrote.

Plante’s opponent in the upcoming election Denis Coderre added his condolences. 

“A very sad Monday morning,” he wrote. “I offer my sincere condolences to his family, his relatives and his colleagues, who risk their lives for our security.”

Canada’s public safety minister, Bill Blair, also wrote that Lacroix had made the “ultimate sacrifice” and that Blair was thinking of his loved ones.

 

RAPIDS CAN BE DEADLY

Corran Addison, an Olympic kayaker and six-time world champion, said he moved to Montreal in 1997 specifically because of the Lachine Rapids.

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He said he watched the rescue operation from his kitchen and thought, “Oh no. Not again,” as he feared another life would be lost in the water.

Addison kayaks is on the rapids regularly and even takes his seven-year-old son with him. But he said he knows that they can be very dangerous for anyone who’s unfamiliar with them.

“I know the rapids backwards and inside and out, so when you do know that, they are not particularly dangerous,” he said.

“If you don’t know the rapids, if you don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know what to do, if you don’t know how to stay calm if things kind of get out of control, then they are extremely dangerous and in fact they’re deadly. The Lachine Rapids kill a number of people every year.”

Addison said he’s seen a shift in the way responders head out into the rapids, which concerns him, along with as a loss of knowledge about the water in the area.

In the past, “there was a lot of knowledge involved in rescue,” he said. “I’m not saying that that knowledge has gone, but it appears to be less prevalent.”

A man in his 20s died in the same area last summer.

—  With files from The Canadian Press. 

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