Firefighters wouldn’t enter church, insurer says

| September 9, 2010

Gatineau firefighters called to a fire at Église St-Paul d’Aylmer in June 2009 never tried to fight the flames inside the building, making it more difficult to save the church, according to an amended claim against the City of Gatineau.

La Mutuelle d’Église de l’Inter-Ouest, the church’s insurance broker, filed a $3.8-million lawsuit against the city on Dec. 10, alleging there was not enough water pressure to fight the fire.

The insurance company’s claim said Gatineau firefighters’ union president Stéphane Noël told the media there was not enough water for crews fighting the deliberately-set fire. Noël was suspended without pay for six months as a consequence of speaking out.

Ottawa fire crews that raced to help Gatineau firefighters control the blaze said they couldn’t be of much use because they had trouble finding enough water.

Damage to the church was estimated at between $17 million and $20 million, but it was insured for only $3.8 million.

The insurance company’s statement of claim said the damages it was seeking would have been substantially less if the water pressure had been adequate. The claim now also says the facts lead to the conclusion that the extent of the fire damage was due to the city’s negligence and imprudence.

“A key was offered to the firefighters, but they did not go inside, and we don’t know why,” said Jean Faullem, a lawyer for the church’s insurance company. “We are saying there was a lack of water, and, even when a key was offered to the firefighters they refused to go inside.”

Faullem said it would have been better to fight the fire inside the church because the fire was initially confined to a small room near the altar.

The insurance company’s allegations have not been proved in court.

Alain d’Entremont, a spokesman for the city, has refused to comment on the allegations because the case is before the courts.

Faullem said Gatineau had not yet filed a defence in the case, but had presented a motion to block legal action against the city because the insurance company failed to make a claim within 15 days of the fire.

Arguments on the motion are to be heard in Quebec Superior Court in Gatineau on Nov. 2.

 

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