Members of the Ottawa Fire Department huddle together after rescuing two people from the debris of the explosion at a construction site in eastern Ottawa on February 13, 2023.  (Jean Lalonde/Ottawa Fire Department - photo credit)

Members of the Ottawa Fire Department huddle together after rescuing two people from the debris of the explosion at a construction site in eastern Ottawa on February 13, 2023. (Jean Lalonde/Ottawa Fire Department – photo credit)

Documents once described as a success achieved under “extreme circumstances” reveal some of the serious challenges Ottawa firefighters faced when they rescued two construction workers trapped in the rubble of last year’s massive Orléans explosion were caught in February.

Firefighters who arrived at the scene were faced with downed wires and leaking natural gas lines, leading one member to fear crews could be electrocuted trying to save lives, documents show.

While firefighters were able to locate and pull out the first worker relatively quickly, recovering the second proved more difficult.

There was also conflicting information about how many people had to be rescued at the site, which was a mix of new and under-construction homes.

Marc Messier, a recently retired fire investigator and fire protection officer, reviewed incident reports and dispatch records obtained by CBC News from the responses of his former colleagues at the Ottawa Fire Department.

“Clearly chaos,” Messier said, describing what he had read.

“Victims are included. They have unknown victims who may be in nearby houses. And then you have the building that you need to stabilize to get to the victims quickly.”

What follows is an account of that morning, extracted from these firefighting documents unless otherwise noted.

Felix Desroches/CBC

Felix Desroches/CBC

“Houses have exploded. Not here anymore’

The explosion happened early on February 13 in Minto Communities’ Avalon Vista development.

Some people had recently moved to the East Ottawa neighborhood while construction of other unoccupied homes continued in the development.

Ottawa Fire Services estimated the total damage at $10 million.

Kody Troy Crosby – previously accused of breaking into other local construction sites – is facing charges of arson and criminal negligence. Police allege Crosby broke into two Blossom Pass Terrace homes the night before, removing water heaters and leaving the natural gas line open.



The gas line ignited the next morning, injuring four construction workers who heard the blast as far away as Cyrville Road, police said.

“Three-four buildings have been completely blown up and are now being leveled,” was summed up by an 911 caller at 6:20 a.m

“I heard a very loud explosion,” shared another a minute later. “Maybe houses exploded. Not there anymore.”

“Electric shock hazard”

Fire Station 53 in Orléans took control of the scene, although people and equipment from more than a dozen other stations also rushed there.

Unlike the deadly explosion of the Eastway tank exactly 13 months ago, firefighters didn’t spend hours fighting the flames.

Instead, crew members donned N-95 masks because of floating insulation as they navigated damaged power lines leading to a 100-foot-radius debris field.

The smell of natural gas hung in the air, and a member of Station 53 also reported that gas was leaking from somewhere in the rubble.

Felix Desroches/CBC

Felix Desroches/CBC

“I have requested on numerous occasions that Hydro shut off power to this entire development,” wrote another member. “Our crews were in danger of being electrocuted while conducting multiple rescue operations and searches.”

“It’s really difficult to start rescuing a patient when you know all these risks are there,” Messier said.

A Hydro One spokesman said the first responders’ request was received at around 6:33 am and crews arrived at 7:01 am

“Once the gas was shut off and it was safe for our crews to disconnect power, they were able to do so within minutes,” the spokesman said.

A 3rd trapped person?

Firefighters searched homes within a two-block radius for injuries.

There was conflicting information about how many people might have been at the scene during the blast and how many might have been trapped in the debris.

An early caller said all the houses were occupied, while other information from workers at the site indicated that “no one was in the buildings in question.”

“I have been informed by some other workers at the scene that there may be one or two people missing with unknown whereabouts,” the Station 53 member said.

It wasn’t until 9:10 a.m., nearly three hours after the blast, that officials confirmed that a third person who was believed to be trapped and safe was inside.

“It was only after discussions with … Minto staff and many other fire officials that it was discovered that all people had been rescued and declared goalless,” wrote another member.

2nd floor ‘pancakes’ at first

To find the two men trapped in the rubble, crews called survivors while combing through the rubble, records show.

The first man rescued was initially heard and found about half an hour after the explosion.

As this man was being pulled out of the rubble at 7:19 a.m., muffled sounds of the second trapped man could be heard from the ruins of Townhouse 113, a wrecked unit located west of the bend on Blossom Pass Terrace.



Getting him out would prove more complicated, as firefighters “had to allow the collapse teams to do their jobs.” Search cameras were sought “to get a better idea of ​​what was going on inside the structure”.

Someone from Station 12’s rope rescue unit had entered the basement through a window and “began to cut inspection holes in the subfloor to deploy a 360 search camera to try and get a picture of the trapped person.”

The second floor of the townhouse had “slid” to the first floor – where the man was trapped – forcing firefighters to call off any rescue attempt in the basement.

caught 3 hours

Crews used “cribs and supports” to stabilize the structure and “bottle jacks and lift bags” to reach the man.

Similar to Jenga, Messier said, “Cribs basically mean using pieces of wood to build a support under an object or structure so it stays stable and doesn’t fall.”

Bracing is “building a temporary structure to support a large piece like a wall that might collapse”.

Lifting bags are used on car wrecks.

“You put that under the vehicle and then use compressed air to inflate the bag and it basically lifts the vehicle,” Messier said.

The “final cut” was made, the man’s right arm was freed and at 9.31am – more than three hours after the blast – the man was lifted out and handed over to paramedics for treatment.

The two trapped men, as well as two other men injured in the blast, were construction workers contracted by Potvin Construction.

They were all discharged from hospital in late February and “happy to be alive,” Potvin spokeswoman Chantal Guindon said.

Alleged arsonist again in court

The fire service records do not mention any pre-existing safety on site at the time of the explosion.

Minto has previously declined to answer whether the site was safe from the blast, citing the ongoing court case against Crosby.

A month after the explosion, two Capital Security cars were guarding the entrance to Avalon Vista.

George Lalande, the owner of Capital Security, said his firm was hired by a company called Stealth to provide security at the site from the day of the blast until the end of April.

Stealth directed questions to Minto about security.

“Unfortunately, we are unable to share any further details at this time as this is a legal matter in the hands of the authorities,” Minto said in an emailed statement on Friday.

Crosby is scheduled to appear in court again on Wednesday.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *