Coroner's inquiry begins into death of Montreal firefighter during water rescue

JOLIETTE, Que. — A coroner's inquest into the drowning of Montreal firefighter Pierre Lacroix heard on Monday that the two people he tried to rescue in the St. Lawrence River had little boating experience.

Lacroix, 58, perished after he became trapped under a HammerHead rescue boat that capsized in the Lachine Rapids as he and three colleagues tried to save two boaters in distress on Oct. 17, 2021.

Tommy Yi told the inquest Monday that he had recently purchased a boat and had wanted to take it out for a spin with a friend. Yi and his friend Ana Dicu were not experienced boaters, although both said they earned their pleasure craft operator cards as teenagers a decade earlier.

Not long after going out on the water, the boat's motor overheated, forcing them to call 911 as darkness set in. Yi tried to drop an anchor a few times but was unsuccessful, and his boat drifted toward the rapids. Four Montreal firefighters, including Lacroix, arrived and tried to secure the stalled boat.

“We are going to capsize, we are going to capsize,” Yi told the inquest, recounting what he had told the firefighters. He then broke down on the witness stand.

Then, he said, the firefighters' boat began drifting away and capsized.

He told the inquest he managed to briefly get his boat's motor running and heard the firefighters yell, "Help! Help!" He said he helped two firefighters onto his boat before its engine cut out. One of the firefighters aboard was unconscious.

Yi said another rescue boat arrived, adding that he helped steer that boat toward a third firefighter in the water. He said there was no sign of Lacroix.

For her part, Dicu said she and Yi weren't sure whether to call 911. She said she didn't know about the danger in the area. "I didn't even know there were rapids," she testified.

Dicu inadvertently recorded some of the incident while she tried to use her phone flashlight. She said she showed the video to a firefighter after she was taken to shore. When she recovered the phone, she noticed someone had tried to forward the video to one of Lacroix's daughters.

In the hours that followed her rescue, her video was leaked to the media.

Lacroix, a father of two, was recovered from the water the following day after Montreal police used an underwater camera to look under the firefighters' boat.

Stéphanie Lacroix, the deceased firefighter's eldest daughter, represented his family at the inquest. She asked questions of Yi during his testimony and took the witness stand herself. She thanked him for having the courage to testify and for going back to help the firefighters in the water.

Lacroix testified later in the day, telling the inquest that she had experienced a lot of anger since her father's death. Celebrating her 26th birthday on Monday, she said it's still hard to talk about her father in the past tense.

She described her dad as a man of few words but whose actions and generosity spoke for themselves. "My father was my role model — my hero," Lacroix said.

In October, Quebec's workplace health and safety board issued a report stating that the rescue boat used by the firefighters was not designed to operate in that part of the rapids. Earlier this month, the union representing Montreal firefighters called for all nautical rescues to be suspended until corrective measures are taken to ensure the safety of its members.

Coroner Géhane Kamel is presiding over the hearings that are scheduled to last two weeks and are being held at the courthouse in Joliette, Que., about 75 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2022.

— By Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal.

The Canadian Press