Drama at Saint-Urbain: “The Nerves of War Pay in Emergency Operations”

Drama at Saint-Urbain: “The Nerves of War Pay in Emergency Operations”

Municipalities need to be given more funding to respond to emergencies if tragedies like the one that claimed the lives of two firefighters in St.-Urvine are to be avoided, a fire protection official said.

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“Money is critical for emergency operations and civil defense. “Smaller municipalities sometimes have more difficulty meeting their own needs than larger municipalities,” underscored André Bourassa, interim vice-president of the Quebec Federation of Security Federations, on Tuesday.

“It is clear that there must be a political will to provide the necessary budgets” at the municipal, regional, provincial and federal levels, said Andriy Kronström, a long-time firefighter and instructor in the recommendations.

Christopher Lavoie and Regis Lavoie drowned in May 2023 while trying to rescue two civilians trapped in the Gaufre River using an Argo vehicle.


Two weeks ago, the mayor of Saint-Urbain launched a passionate appeal for help, believing that the expectations of small municipalities are too high for the resources at their disposal. Both the mayor, general manager and fire director admitted that they did not have good knowledge of the municipal civil defense plan and emergency measures during events.

For his part, Mark Morin, director of civil defense analysis and policy at the Ministry of Public Safety, acknowledged on Tuesday that “it’s a challenge for smaller municipalities.”

He explained that one way to overcome this problem is to share some services or some tasks between several municipalities. A revision of legislation is also underway which, among other things, emphasizes a regional approach to disaster risk management.

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Shared responsibility

“Responsibility [de la sécurité civile] It belongs to the local municipality, but for us, the message we are conveying is that we are calling on municipalities to work together to increase disaster recovery capabilities,” he said.

This reform reaffirms the responsibility shared by all actors in society, including citizens who “must show foresight and prudence”.

“Yes, the authorities, the government, the municipalities have responsibilities, but citizens also have responsibilities in relation to events that may occur in their environment,” he explained.

Tunnel vision

On another note, André Bourassa explained the concept of “tunnel vision” that can play a role in drama. This can lead a firefighter to “focus on one element” in an intervention and lose the overview.

It is necessary to prevent this state of mind if it can be understood in a “situation that was developing at high speed”. “The best [les gens] Prepared and trained, this will be less likely to happen,” the witness underlined.

On the other hand, he raised questions about the assessment of the situation in which the victim couple had to be rescued, who were finally evacuated from their home by helicopter several hours after the event.

“Is this really an emergency situation or an evacuation?” he asks, while this assessment is more the officer’s responsibility than the firefighter’s.

Retired firefighter Régis Lavoie wonders if his experience with the Argo vehicle, which he used in calm waters, may have given him a false sense of security.

“No one is going to go [vers] His sure death,” he asserted.

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The “perfect storm” is difficult to predict

On May 1, 2023, a true “perfect storm” hit Charlevoix, causing flooding that was difficult to predict and within minutes flooded the field where two firefighters were wandering in Saint-Urbain.

“We have a lot of water and it comes very quickly, so they are occupied, especially the field […] Jean Landry, general director of the Charlevoix-Montmorency Watershed Organization, summarized that “within minutes two firefighters had to go and rescue people who were inundated.”

In the Charlevoix region, floods from the Gouffre River are “relatively frequent”, averaging one every six years, he explained at the coroner’s public hearing.

In addition, its watershed, which crosses seven municipalities, is “very reactive” and presents significant differences in elevation in the Charlevoix astrobleme territory.

Limited tools

However, he says the tools currently available to researchers and municipalities are “relatively limited” and make it difficult to predict the river’s behavior with certainty.

On the day of the event, already during the melting period, 80 to 140 mm of rain fell in the watershed. Slowing down the flow of the raging river.

“It’s really a perfect storm,” Mr. Landry said.

According to project manager Guillaume Racine, data from a hydrometric station located upstream of the accident site indicated that the flow of the Gouffre River had multiplied by five in just twelve hours, reaching its peak at noon, shortly before the tragedy.

Sudden agitation

This explains the testimonies of citizens talking about a “sudden wave”. Mr. Landry noted.

Due to the “very flat profile” of the reclaimed field, which endangered two citizens, if the river bordering the land overflows its bed, “the water invades the field very quickly”.

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The nonprofit recommends acquiring and developing a predictive model of risks that allows for more detailed predictions.

“Actually, if there was a pattern like we imagine, the two firefighters would have been in a vehicle to pick up two civilians, and would have returned dry. Yet [avec] The information that we had, that they had, could not have predicted the behavior of the river at that time under the conditions that we had,” Jean Landry said.

According to the data currently available, “It allows us to see a truck going down the Côte des Éboulements without brakes, we know the truck is coming, but we cannot anticipate the damage, “he is going to talk”. He imagined.

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