MONTREAL — A Montreal firefighter has drowned after being thrown into the St. Lawrence River during a rescue mission Sunday night, officials announced Monday.
Montreal fire Chief Richard Liebmann said the body of Pierre Lacroix, a married father of two, was recovered from the water with the help of Montreal police divers on Monday morning. Lacroix was transported to hospital where his death was confirmed at 9:25 a.m.
Lacroix, 58, was one of four firefighters dispatched shortly after 7 p.m. Sunday to rescue the occupants of a boat that was in trouble near the Lachine rapids in southwestern Montreal.
"There were two people that were in distress, they were drifting towards the rapids when our rescue boat made contact with them," Liebmann told reporters Monday.
Shortly after that, the fire boat capsized, Liebmann said.
The other three firefighters — and the two people they had originally set out to save — were quickly rescued, but the search for Lacroix continued into the night. Boats from fire departments in neighbouring communities participated in the search, along with police divers, as well as provincial police and military helicopters.
Around 3 a.m., rescuers were able to get a camera underneath the capsized boat, where they found signs of Lacroix. However, Liebmann said it was too dangerous to send divers under the boat until it was stabilized.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante offered her condolences to Lacroix's family and colleagues, praising his courage and selflessness.
"Mr. Lacroix died doing what he trained for, doing what he truly believed was the right thing to do: saving other people's lives even if it meant losing his own. I think it's important to keep in mind how much courage it takes to do so," she told reporters. She announced the city would lower flags to half-mast in honour of Lacroix.
Lacroix, who specialized in water rescue, had been with the Montreal fire department for more than 30 years and worked out of Fire Station 64 in the borough of Lachine for almost 20 years.
He was "somebody whose life was dedicated to helping others," Liebmann said. "He knew that they were going into a situation that was very, very dangerous, and unfortunately he paid the ultimate price. There are two people that are that are out of danger today thanks to the efforts of all the rescue teams that were there, including firefighter Lacroix."
The Transportation Safety Board, the provincial workplace health and safety board, the fire department and Montreal police are all investigating.
"It's an inherently dangerous place to be at any time, especially at night and everything happened very quickly, but we're going to thoroughly investigate and do everything we can to figure out how to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again," Liebmann said.
The three other firefighters were released from hospital overnight, said Liebmann, who noted that Lacroix is the first Montreal firefighter to die in the line of duty since 2012.
"We try and prepare for the worst, but you're never prepared for something like this, so all we can do is be there for each other," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled the last name of Richard Liebmann in some instances.