Montreal firefighters mourn colleague lost during river rescue

The body of the Montreal firefighter who went missing Sunday evening during a rescue mission in the St. Lawrence River was recovered Monday morning.

Pierre Lacroix, 58, worked as a firefighter in the city for decades

Montreal Fire Chief Richard Liebmann spoke to reporters Monday, after the body of firefighter Pierre Lacroix was recovered from the St. Lawrence River. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Pierre Lacroix, the Montreal firefighter who died after his boat capsized in the Lachine rapids of the St. Lawrence River last night, was experienced in water rescues and had worked as a firefighter for more than 30 years.

A group of friends and colleagues gathered at the Lachine station where Lacroix worked for more than 20 years as they mourned his disappearance Sunday, said Montreal Fire Chief Richard Liebmann.

Liebmann confirmed Lacroix's death Monday, offering his condolences and saying that having to share the news was "the most difficult duty a firefighter can have."

Lacroix's body was recovered underneath the boat he was in at around 9 a.m. local time Monday.

Rescuers had been searching for him since he went missing in the Lachine rapids Sunday evening while attempting to rescue two people who were on a boat nearby.

Liebmann said Lacroix, who was 58, had a spouse and two children. He worked as a firefighter in the city for more than 30 years and was knowledgeable about the bodies of water in and around southern Montreal. 

"Firefighter Lacroix was doing what he was trained to do, trying to rescue two people that were in imminent danger in the rapids and unfortunately he paid the ultimate price," Liebmann told reporters Monday. 

Liebmann said Lacroix's colleagues gathered at the Lachine fire station Sunday as they awaited news from the rescue operation. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante offered her condolences during the news conference. 

"A family has lost a spouse, a father, a brother," she said. "My thoughts are with the family, but also with the entire community of firefighters who are also a family."

"They dedicate their lives to save others. Yesterday was strong proof of that."

Denis Coderre, the mayoral candidate for Ensemble Montréal, tweeted his condolences, saying "I offer my sincere condolences to his family, his relatives and his colleagues, who risk their lives for our security."

Boat was in a dangerous spot for divers

Lacroix was on the boat with three other firefighters, who were found downstream after going through the rapids with the two rescued boaters. 

They were taken to hospital and searches began for Lacroix, with firefighters from several neighbouring cities — including Longueuil, Varennes, La Prairie, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Châteauguay — searching their areas of the river, Liebmann said. 

The two people who originally needed to be rescued survived and were treated by paramedics, but did not require hospitalization.

The Canadian Coast Guard and Montreal police divers, as well as a helicopter from the Canadian Armed Forces and the Sûreté du Québec, participated in the search. 

The body of a firefighter was recovered from the river around 9 a.m. on Oct. 18. (Simon-Marc Charron/Radio-Canada)

Liebmann said crews were finally able to get a camera underneath the boat this morning to see if Lacroix was there. The boat had been in a place that was too dangerous for divers to get to last night, he explained.

"Later on, we were able to get the resources necessary to get him out from under the boat," Liebmann said. "Every attempt was made."

Chris Ross, president of the Montreal Firefighters Association, said he had met with the family and that the association would be providing support for Lacroix's colleagues through its employee assistance program. 

Liebmann said an investigation is underway to determine the cause of the boat's capsizing and how exactly Lacroix became caught underneath it. 

WARNING | The video below contains images of a wave hitting the rescue boat

Firefighter rescue boat gets swamped

1 month ago
A boat with Montreal firefighters on board was swamped by a wave as they tried to rescue two stranded boaters. One firefighter was killed in the incident. 0:39

"We are going to do everything we can to make sure an event like this doesn't happen again, but we have to understand that as firefighters, we're called to go where people are in danger, so it will always be a job with a certain amount of risk," he said. 

The last firefighter to have died while in service in Montreal was 39-year-old Thierry Godfrind in 2012, who was struck by the fire truck that had driven him to the site of a fire. The city faced a hefty fine related to Godfrind's death, following an investigation by Quebec's workplace health and safety board. 

Before that, a Montreal fire captain, Marcel Marleau, died in 2006 while battling a fire. 

With files from Radio-Canada's Karine Bastien