Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavik December 15, 2016 - 7:00 am

Better training could have saved lives in 2015 Nunavik fire: Quebec coroner

Report found woman and infant died of smoke inhalation

SARAH ROGERS
A Puvirnituq firefighter sits in one the Nunavik community's newly-acquired fire trucks in 2012. A report from Quebec's coroner's office recommends more local firefighter training to help prevent fire-related deaths in the region. (FILE PHOTO)
A Puvirnituq firefighter sits in one the Nunavik community's newly-acquired fire trucks in 2012. A report from Quebec's coroner's office recommends more local firefighter training to help prevent fire-related deaths in the region. (FILE PHOTO)

A report prepared by Quebec’s coroner’s office has determined that two people killed last year in a Puvirnituq house fire died of smoke inhalation.

But the report also flagged a lack of training among the community’s firefighters, and alcohol consumption, as factors in the 2015 deaths.

“I believe the factor that could have most improved the evacuation of the people from the fire and increased their chance of survival is related to the training of the firefighters,” said Andreé Kronström, the coroner who prepared the report, released Dec. 14.

The early morning fire swept through a duplex in the Hudson coast community June 17, 2015, when a group of adults and six children were at the home.

During the blaze, firefighters discovered the lifeless body of a nine-month-old baby, Younie Ilisamaut, who was pronounced dead at the local health centre.

The remains of her grandmother, 47-year-old Younie Alasuak, were found in the destroyed home once the fire was out.

Tools were in place that could have helped save Alasuak’s life and that of her granddaughter, the report noted; a smoke detector sounded that morning, alerting a woman in the house to call for help.

When police officers arrived at 1:52 a.m., the woman told officers she had tried, unsuccessfully, to rescue Alasuak and the baby from the second floor of the home.

The coroner’s report notes that officers heard screaming from the second floor, but were unable to access the upper floor due to the fire’s intense smoke and heat.

Once a team of seven firefighters arrived at the home around 2 a.m., one firefighter was able to access the upstairs bedroom, but only to retrieve the baby.

Three more firefighters arrived to help battle the blaze which firefighters didn’t get under control until about 8 a.m.

The cause of the fire remains undetermined, although police believe it was started by someone smoking in the home.

Alasuak’s identity was only later confirmed using DNA comparison with family members.

The pathologist leading Alasuak’s autopsy found a lethal level of carbon monoxide and 180 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood in her system, more than double the legal limit for driving in Quebec.

The alcohol, coupled with the woman’s severe respiratory problems, likely slowed or prevented Alasuak from evacuating the home after the smoke detector went off, the report noted.

The coroner’s report also looked at the response to the fire. Puvirnituq’s 14-member fire department had trouble maintaining its members, the report found, but the service was well-equipped, with a third and new fire truck recently delivered to the community.

Only seven firefighters responded to the initial call, while three more arrived later. Of the group, only the fire chief had achieved his Firefighter 1 training, though he had recently resigned.

In his absence, the response to the June 17 fire was “disorganized.”

Firefighters did not know how to use their oxygen masks or how to adjust the water pressure on their hoses—an issue the community’s new fire chief highlighted in the weeks following the deadly fire.

Kronström said firefighter training would have made a major difference to the response to the June 17 fire.

Her recommendations: that the Kativik Regional Government take all necessary measures to ensure firefighters have appropriate training, including the implementation of a Nunavik-based training program.

The KRG, which oversees fire prevention services in Nunavik, had stepped up efforts to train local firefighters to bring fire protection services in the region up to Quebec standards.

Part of those efforts include ensuring at least 10 firefighters per in each community have Firefighter 1 training, an internationally recognized certification.

Currently, part of the training must be completed in southern Quebec, but the region is working to deliver the entire training in Nunavik.

A number of firefighters in Puvirnituq have since taken the training, the report noted, including the team’s new chief.

Between 2011 and 2015, the Hudson coast community saw 45 fires with an estimated material loss of $5.6 million, the highest in the region.

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