Quebec firefighters’ training and equipment deficiencies highlighted in 2023 flood tragedy

April 3, 2024

Inquiry finds gaps in firefighters’ flood response preparedness

The Quebec workplace safety board has disclosed that two volunteer firefighters who tragically lost their lives during a flood rescue attempt northeast of Quebec City in May 2023 were ill-equipped and lacked the necessary training for such emergencies.

The report, released by the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST), points out several shortcomings in the planning and execution of the rescue operation that led to the fatal outcome.

The firefighters, attempting to save two individuals trapped by rapidly escalating floodwaters in St-Urbain, Que., were identified as 23-year-old Christopher Lavoie and 55-year-old Regis Lavoie, who were not related.

According to CNESST inspectors Caroline Pelchat and François Lachance, “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.”

Inadequate planning and equipment under scrutiny

The report further critiques the use of an amphibious vehicle not suited for the swift currents of the floodwaters.

Owned by one of the victims, the vehicle was designed for calm water and became uncontrollable in the strong current, ultimately colliding with a tree.

This incident highlights the importance of using appropriate equipment for specific rescue situations.

Additionally, the report notes that the protective gear worn by the firefighters, intended for fire-related emergencies, hindered their swimming capabilities.

Life-jackets were found near the scene but were not utilized effectively.

Another concerning finding was the inadequacy of St-Urbain’s emergency response plan, which did not activate safety measures for flooding or incorporate strategies for managing such disasters.

This lapse in emergency preparedness contributed to the ineffective response and the tragic loss of the firefighters.

Calls for enhanced training and preparedness

To prevent future tragedies, the CNESST recommends that Quebec’s firefighting academy integrate water rescue training into its mandatory curriculum.

This suggestion aims to ensure that firefighters are better prepared to face diverse emergencies, including flood rescues, and equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary to safely and effectively manage such situations.

FSJA Comment

This incident serves as a somber reminder of the risks faced by emergency responders and the paramount importance of adequate training and equipment in ensuring their safety and effectiveness.

The CNESST’s findings and recommendations offer a crucial roadmap for improving the resilience and readiness of firefighting teams, emphasizing the need for comprehensive training that spans beyond traditional fire-related scenarios.

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