On November 7, 2019, Montréal resident Nicolas Duvernois received an award from the SIM during a recognition ceremony for acts of merit and civic engagement. For the occasion, some 25 firefighters, lieutenants, captains and eight other residents were honoured for the ways they helped save lives between 2013 and 2017. All of them showed unusual courage in the face of tragic and dangerous situations.
Among them is Duvernois, father of a young child whose wife was pregnant. On the night of April 23, 2017, Duvernois’ wife woke him up to tell him she heard some yelling outside. He got up, looked out the window and saw his neighbour on fire, calling for help. Duvernois rushed out of his house, ran over to the man and asked his wife to bring a blanket. His panicked neighbour began moving towards him; Duvernois instructed him to get down and roll on the ground, and then put out the fire using the blanket.
During this time, his neighbour informed him that his wife was still inside. “That’s true love – you’re on fire and still thinking about your wife!” exclaimed Duvernois as he told the story of that terrible night. Duvernois was thinking about his family, but he was also thinking about the families inside the burning triplex.
As black, dense smoke poured out of the building, Duvernois realized that there was no alarm sounding. He knew that there was a grandmother who lived in the building and often babysat her two young grandchildren, along with a couple with a newborn baby. He shouted at the top of his lungs to alert the inhabitants of the building.
Everything happened so fast – a window broke, creating a vacuum. Duvernois was able to see inside the house. He saw his neighbour’s wife on fire on the ground and rushed inside. It was difficult to see through the thick smoke. Still, he managed to get to his neighbour and take her arm. She wasn’t moving, and he feared she was dead. Getting her out was difficult because of the door, but he managed. On the porch, he pulled her clothing down to see her face and saw her eyes – she was alive! A neighbour came to take the woman away from the burning building.
Duvernois returned into the flames and climbed the stairs as high as he could to warn neighbours to leave. “When you think they’re going to die, your human reflexes kick in. And I was thinking about the kids, most of all,” he said. He then realized they were already outside – they had heard the first time, and left through the back door. Firefighters, police officers and an ambulance came to the scene to take it from there.Duvernois sustained no injuries other than a small burn to his hand. His neighbour survived, but unfortunately, his neighbour’s wife died a few days later at the hospital.