MONTREAL — Hundreds of firefighters stood at attention Friday and saluted as a piper played "Amazing Grace," a final farewell for a veteran Montreal firefighter who died while taking part in a water rescue.
Pierre Lacroix of the Montreal fire department drowned the night of Oct. 17 after the rescue boat he was in capsized and he became trapped underneath it.
Mourners at the official funeral, inside Notre-Dame Basilica, remembered Lacroix for his selflessness and readiness to assist.
Outside the church, hundreds of Montreal firefighters and police officers in dress uniforms watched the ceremony on large screens, while hundreds more, including firefighters from other cities, watched at a viewing event at the city's convention centre.
Yannick Dion, who worked closely with Lacroix, recalled a colleague who could smoke a cigarette and throw back pasta, snack cakes and doughnuts — and still run 20 kilometres home to stay in shape.
Dion said Lacroix was the dean of the squad at Fire Station 64, in Lachine, Que., and was something of a father figure. "He influenced young people with his good manners," Dion said. "He was ready to make sacrifices and get his hands dirty for others."
Before the service began, hundreds of firefighters, police officers and paramedics from Quebec and other parts of North America marched silently to the beat of a single drum in a procession through the streets of Old Montreal to the basilica.
They were followed by fire trucks garlanded with wreaths and the honour guard of the city's fire department.
Around 1,200 Montreal firefighters participated in the official ceremonies, said Martin Guilbault, an operations chief at the Montreal fire department, though others were still at work, dealing with a nearby fire.
"We never close the fire department," he said in an interview. "We have firefighters working, we had a fire this morning."
In total, there were around 3,000 official participants, Guilbault said, including firefighters from every province and some from the United States.
Guilbault, who was Lacroix’s captain for several years, described him as a man with two sides: someone who was known for his sense of humour around the station but who was also extremely professional when on a call and the first one ready when the bell rang.
A water rescue specialist, Lacroix, 58, had been with the fire department for more than 30 years. He was married and had two daughters.
During the funeral, Montreal fire Chief Richard Liebmann presented Lacroix's daughters with their father's helmet and uniform cap.
Lacroix was one of four firefighters coming to the aid of two boaters in distress when the mishap took place.
He was the first Montreal firefighter to die in the line of duty since 2012.
Liebmann told mourners that Lacroix's death is a brutal reminder of the dangers firefighters face on a daily basis.
“His life was essentially dedicated to helping others — in his job, in his community, in his family — Pierre liked helping others,” Liebmann said. “And his final act, his ultimate act, was helping those in peril.”
Sébastien Vincent, a neighbour and close friend of 16 years, recalled Lacroix's loyalty and his generosity.
"Pierre, when the spotlight goes out, when the long night of mourning comes to an end, we can return the favour by taking care of your loved ones, as you would have done for us, under such circumstances,” Vincent said.
He paid tribute to his friend, calling it a privilege to have crossed paths with him
“You disappeared as you lived: by being present and helping," Vincent said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin and Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press