1 worker confirmed dead after scaffolding collapses at Quebec pulp and paper plant

October 27, 2021
1 worker confirmed dead after scaffolding collapses at Quebec pulp and paper plant

One of the two workers trapped in a silo under collapsed scaffolding at the Domtar factory in Windsor, Que., has been found dead, Radio-Canada has learned.

The victim is Yan Baillargeon, a 39-year-old father who lived in Quebec City but was originally from Saint-Anselme, about 50 kilometres southeast of the province’s capitol.

Family confirmed his death with Radio-Canada Wednesday afternoon. The workers had been buried under the debris of a collapsed scaffold structure since early Tuesday.

Search operations continue to find the second worker trapped under the debris, and his state of health is still unknown, authorities say.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated. Below is an earlier version:

The fear that more equipment could collapse is slowing down the effort to find and rescue two workers who were buried under debris when a 20-storey scaffold caved in early Tuesday morning at the Domtar pulp and paper plant in Windsor, Que., about 150 kilometres east of Montreal.

The workers have been trapped for more than 36 hours, and there has been no information on their condition. Rescuers still don’t know how much longer it will take to find them.

The rescue mission is complicated by the fact that crews have to secure parts of the scaffold that are still standing before they can continue their search inside the 60-metre-high silo, explained Stéphane Simoneau, the director of Sherbrooke’s fire protection department.

His department was called to help Tuesday morning, along with the Windsor fire brigade and the plant’s specialized rescue brigade.

“Our concern is to not create another collapse on the victims who are already under the rubble,” he said. “We have to be careful, you understand, for the rubble, as we take out one piece at a time.”

The director of the Sherbrooke fire department Stéphane Simoneau said at a news conference Wednesday morning that it’s taking a long time to rescue the workers because there is precarious equipment inside the silo that could fall and bury them further. (Brigitte Marcoux/Radio-Canada)

Simoneau compared the situation to dealing with a house of cards. He said reaching the area and removing the debris is hard, because there are only three small entry points to the silo.

And before they could even start the search, responders had to control the level of oxygen and the temperature inside the silo to make sure the workers and the rescuers would stay safe, he said.

That step is now complete, but the hardest part remains: finding the missing workers. 

“What we still don’t have control of yet — and that we’re trying to do — is to be able to go down as fast as possible to rescue these workers,” Simoneau said.

Rescuers believe the workers are about halfway down the silo. They have tried using thermal cameras to locate them, but they haven’t succeeded in making visual or verbal contact yet, he said. 

The firefighter said his team remains hopeful and determined despite these difficulties. 

“Two lives still need to be saved, and that’s the mission we gave ourselves.”

Investigation underway

An ambulance arrived at the scene of the accident shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday. (Marion Bérubé/Radio-Canada)

The trapped workers are part of a contractor’s crew hired by Domtar to do major maintenance work on the plant.

The plant’s general manager, Sylvain Bricault, would not reveal what company they were associated with during a news conference on Wednesday, saying the accident was still under investigation.

Quebec provincial police and the province’s work safety board (CNESST) are trying to determine what caused the collapse.

The accident happened at about 1:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday. Emergency services were called to the site shortly after.

About 10 more people were hurt in the accident, including three who were taken to the hospital, according to paramedic Alexandre Allard, who works for Dessercom, the ambulance service that responded to the scene. He said they were expected to recover.

Bricault said psychological support services were offered to the workers and the families of the missing contractors, who have been advised of the situation.

The plant employs about 900 people in the region and is one of Canada’s largest pulp and paper plants.

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