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Quebec firefighters who died in 2023 flood lacked training, equipment: safety board

April 6, 2024
The Canadian Press

Two volunteer firefighters who died trying to rescue two people trapped by floodwaters northeast of Quebec City last May lacked proper training and equipment, Quebec’s workplace safety board has found.

The May 1 rescue attempt was not well planned and the amphibious vehicle used by the firefighters was inappropriate for the operation, the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail said in its report released Thursday.

“The lack of training to carry out work near or on water exposed the firefighters to the risk of drowning when they didn’t have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience,” inspectors Caroline Pelchat and François Lachance concluded.

According to the report, the two men, who were identified last year as 23-year-old Christopher Lavoie and 55-year-old Regis Lavoie — and who were not related — had received firefighter training related only to fires. They were attempting to rescue two people trapped in a home in the small community of St-Urbain, Que., by rapidly rising floodwaters when they drowned.


Their amphibious vehicle, which was owned by one of the men, was equipped with tracks and an outboard motor, and only meant to be used on calm water. The safety board’s report said the current of the swollen Gouffre River swept the vehicle off course and into a tree; the men then tried to grab hold of a branch but were thrown into the river.

During the attempted rescue the two men were wearing protective equipment for firefighting, which limited their ability to swim. Two life-jackets were later found near the vehicle, but neither had been worn or adjusted to fit over firefighting gear, Pelchat and Lachance said.

As well, the report said that even if the firefighters had reached the home, the weight of four people would have been more than their vehicle was built to handle.

Pelchat and Lachance also found flaws with St-Urbain’s emergency plan, which they said was not set in motion that day — and did not include safety measures for floods.

“The absence of preventive planning to manage flooding led to poor management of the response, resulting in the drowning of two firefighters,” the report said.

Among the board’s recommendations is that Quebec’s firefighting academy include rescues near water in its mandatory training programs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2024.

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