Two Winnipeg Firefighters Die in Flashover

The Winnipeg fire department has identified two veteran captains killed in a fierce blaze, while a third firefighter remains in critical condition.

Capt. Tom Nichols, 57, and Capt. Harold Lessard, 55, both had more than 30 years of experience.

"You go in to fight a fire, and unfortunately two of the best guys you could ever meet didn't make it out," said Alex Forrest, president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg.

Four other firefighters were taken to hospital. Deputy fire Chief Ken Sim said one remained in critical condition with extreme burns, while another was stable with burns to 15 per cent of his body. The other two injured firefighters were treated for minor burns and released.

Firefighters arrived on the scene of the fire Sunday around 8 p.m. local time. Neighbors say two teenagers were in the home, studying in the basement, but got out safely.

Six fire fighters went inside to search for anyone left inside when it appears they were trapped on the second floor by what was likely a flashover.

Forrest explained to CTV Newsnet that a flashover is every firefighter's nightmare.

"What happens is almost simultaneously, a whole section of the building will erupt into a huge fireball in which the temperatures could go from hundreds of degrees Celsius to thousands of degrees Celsius within seconds," he said.

"Our gear is the best state-of-the-art gear that we could possibly have. It protects us, but it's not a coat of armor. There are limits," he added.

"And when you have a flashover where it goes to thousands of degrees Celsius within seconds, you're going to have failures of breathing apparatus. You're going to have failures of protective clothing."

CTV's Kelly Dehn says the heat was reportedly so intense, "it melted the radio of one of the firefighters."

The blaze burned intensely, even in the -39-degrees-Celsius temperatures before being put out. Aerial television images showed the home lighting up the surrounding neighborhood. Four Winnipeg Transit buses were brought in to evacuate 15 to 20 of the surrounding houses.

Shaken area residents watched the scene unfold.

"It's just been them trying to pull out firemen. One after another, they were pulling them out into the ambulances," Mark Lemont told CTV Winnipeg.

"They were just trying to get them out. Everyone was yelling for medics, trying to be as calm as can be. But it looked pretty bad."

The parents of the teens in the house at the time of the fire were apparently away on a holiday.

Investigators are now turning their attention to determining the cause of fire.

According to the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation website, the last Winnipeg firefighter to die while on duty was Capt. R.W. Stoyko in 2003. In 2006, eight Canadian firefighters died on duty.

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Funeral Information

A private funeral service for Firefighter Lessard is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 8 at 1 p.m. at North Kildonan Mennonite Brethren Church, Winnipeg.

Funeral services for Firefighter Tom Nichols funeral are scheduled for Monday, Feb. 12 at 1 p.m. Monday at Grant Memorial Baptist Church, Winnipeg.

The Memorial Service for Captain Harold Lessard and Captain Tom Nichols will be held at the MTS Centre on Wednesday February 14th. The service will begin at 10am. The doors will open at 8am and we ask that members of the public be seated by 9:30. Fire Fighters are asked to muster at 6am (no later than 7am) in the Winnipeg Convention Centre.