Lack of training, a risky towing maneuver and poor prior assessment of the situation contributed to the sinking of a Montreal fire department boat in the Lachine rapids, resulting in the death of firefighter Pierre Lacroix.
These were the main findings of a Transportation Safety Board investigation released Wednesday about the accident involving four firefighters attempting to rescue two recreational boaters on the night of Oct. 17, 2021.
The findings closely reproduce the conclusion of Quebec coroner Géhane Kamel, who wrote in his investigation published last April that the members of the fire department’s rescue team were brave but were not well trained in nautical rescue, as were the members from the command post that supervised the operation.
About 7:15 p.m., an hour after sunset, the Montreal Fire Department’s rescue boat with four firefighters on board was dispatched to rescue a pleasure boat whose engine had failed and was heading toward the rapids. of Lachine. The owners of the pleasure craft had just purchased it that day and had limited experience. They called 911 once they realized they were floating toward the rapids.
The firefighters donned rain gear and life jackets and piloted their craft to the drifting boat in just over 10 minutes. Because they were focused on visually locating the recreational boat, which was difficult in the dark and with the city lights in the background, the firefighters did not realize that they had driven their boat into an area that firefighters they had declared out of bounds. because she was too dangerous, the Transportation Safety Board report states.
“Given the crew’s lack of experience in the area and their concentration on searching for the pleasure craft, the reduced visibility and speed of the vessel, they did not realize that they had entered the Lachine Rapids exclusion zone. appointed by (the fire department) after A similar incident occurred in 2010,” the report reads. “This zone prohibits firefighters from conducting navigation, training and rescue operations without requesting assistance from the Canadian Coast Guard.”
Due to the urgency of the situation, and with poor communications that did not advise them to abandon the operation and transfer it to another rescue boat downstream, “the crew of rescue boat 1864 continued the operation in difficult conditions for which they were not trained. . “
Once the rescue boat reached the bow of the pleasure boat, “given the urgency of the situation and the limited options,” the firefighters attempted a risky rescue operation known as reverse towing, a complex operation for a boat with jet. The maneuver caused the ship to lose propulsion and steering and move into a dangerous standing wave. In reaction, the boat launched, causing her to collide with the pleasure craft, at which point she was pushed into the wave in the rapids. She filled with water and capsized.
The four firefighters were thrown into the cold waters of the St. Lawrence River. Three were rescued, two of them by the driver of the pleasure boat, and treated for hypothermia. Lacroix’s body was not found until the next day, beneath the capsized ship. The TSB investigation did not determine why Lacroix was unable to free himself. He does mention that firefighters were carrying extra buoyant personal flotation devices that could have made it more difficult to get out from under an overturned boat.
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The board noted that following the accident, Quebec’s workplace health and safety board prohibited the fire department from working in the Lachine rapids exclusion zone until measures were implemented to ensure safe navigation. Firefighters removed all their boats from service of the model involved in the fatal accident and replaced them with boats with outboard motors.
City spokesman Gonzalo Núñez said the fire department has made numerous changes in the wake of the 2021 tragedy, including updating its marine rescue training programs and purchasing personal locator beacons for all personnel. maritime rescue. “The complete review of all maritime security services is underway,” Núñez wrote in an email.
Following the coroner’s report last April, Chris Ross, president of the union representing Montreal firefighters, said the union has been calling for improvements in training for years and said it was unfortunate that it took a death to bring about change. .