Woman who gave Gatineau shock victim CPR calls for safety around electricity

A woman who helped resuscitate a Gatineau man who suffered an electric shock while sandbagging a home says people need to be careful around electricity as they return to their flooded property.

Richard Lafontaine received shock while helping flood victims and is slowly recovering

Richard Lafontaine was taken to hospital on May 6, 2017, after he suffered an electric shock while building a sandbag barrier for homes on De la Gappe Boulevard in Gatineau. (Supplied)

A woman who helped resuscitate a Gatineau man who suffered an electric shock while sandbagging a home says people returning to their flooded properties need to be extra careful around electricity.

Richard Lafontaine had been helping his neighbour on De la Gappe Boulevard in the Touraines neighbourhood just west of Highway 50 on May 6 when he fell into electrified water.

Melissa Hoszko was volunteering nearby with her boyfriend and father when they noticed Lafontaine had collapsed.

"None of us have experience working with electricity," she told CBC News Sunday. "Everyone had thought that he'd been working so long he might've been exhausted and might've just passed out — or he might have had a heart attack."

Hoszko said she only found out later he had tripped over an electric-powered pump that was underwater. She said Lafontaine's face was "completely blue" and he had no pulse.

She said thought she was going to see him die — but then she decided to act. After her boyfriend and father moved Lafontaine to a dry patch, Hoszko and another person began to perform CPR.

'Electricity and water don't mix'

Sylvain Langlois, a close friend of Lafontaine, said Sunday he is still in hospital but his condition is improving — although it will take months for him to recover.

"He has supernatural strength. He will be back as he was," Langlois told Radio-Canada in French.

Ontario's Electrical Safety Authority recommends that people returning home should make sure water has not damaged power supplies and check to see if wires or cables have frayed when they return home.

"Electricity and water don't mix. They're a lethal combination," said Scott Saint, ESA's chief public safety officer. "If there's any fraying of cords, anything that will let the electricity get away from the cord itself and into the water, that's something to be careful of."

Melissa Hoszko performed CPR on Richard Lafontaine, who fell into electrified water while helping with the flood relief efforts in Gatineau last week. (Melissa Hoszko/Facebook)

Saint said people check if the water level has risen above the level of the electrical outlets, baseboard heaters, furnace or electrical panels. If that's the case, he said, the best thing is to contact the utility provider to make sure the power is turned off.

He also said the ESA recommends hiring a licensed contractor to assess electric damage and handle repairs.

"If you think there's been water in contact with electrical circuits, don't go in until you understand the power's off," Saint said.

The City of Gatineau has posted the following information about using pumps that could come into contact with water:

The risk of electric shock is higher in wet or humid areas. When using pumps or other devices that could come into contact with water, it is strongly recommended to use a differential circuit breaker, commonly called Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI).

This device protects the electric circuits from power surges that could cause death or severe injuries.

(Source: City of Gatineau, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety)

As for Hoszko, she said the experience should serve as a reminder to others — as they re-enter their flooded homes — to make sure volunteers are safe while they work.

"It's already a stressful situation," she said. "You don't want to make it even more stressful with people getting hurt or worse."