From left: Paul Panetta, Patrice Tardy, Ryan Campeau.
Photograph by Phil Carpenter, The [Montreal] Gazette

"True heroes" of Pierrefonds blaze
Rescued four handicapped people

"What those boys did was fantastic,"
fire department's chief of operations says.

When Ryan Campeau and a three friends were flagged down on a Pierrefonds street early Sunday morning by the supervisor of a home for the handicapped that was ablaze, the young men didn't hesitate, entering the burning building to rescue those inside. An officer of the Montreal fire department is recommending the four get citations for bravery.

When it was all over, Ryan Campeau called his father, Terrance, a Montreal firefighter, and said: "Dad, now I know how you feel."

The younger Campeau was talking about rescuing people from a burning building, which he and three friends did early Sunday in Pierrefonds.

"When a firefighter saves a life, he usually doesn't brag about it but he holds his head high," Terrance Campeau said yesterday.

"Now my son and his friends can do the same.

"They are true heroes."

Ryan Campeau, 19, who is studying architecture at Vanier College, said he and his friends - Paul Panetta, 22, Pierre Tawfik, 21, and Patrice Tardy, 19 - were driving home about 3 a.m. Sunday after a night of partying to celebrate March break when they were stopped by a woman screaming in the middle of the street.

"It was the (supervisor) of a group home, with two handicapped people beside her. She was yelling for us to stop, that there were four other people still in the building, which was on fire," Campeau said yesterday as he and his friends stood outside the burned-out group home for handicapped people on Lalande Blvd.

Campeau told his friends to cover their faces with their shirts, and the four entered the burning building.

"There was so much smoke."

"But the first thing I saw was flames coming up the outside back window from the basement," Campeau said.

As his father had taught him, Campeau checked doors for heat before opening them.

"There was a man lying in his bed with a blanket over his head," Campeau said. "I picked him up and took him outside, crossed the street and placed him on the sidewalk.

"He never said a word."

During that time, Panetta, Tawfik and Tardy had brought two other residents out to the sidewalk of the home, owned by the non-profit Marc Vanier Centre and run by the West Montreal Readaptation Centre.

"We had to drag one man out of his room, down the stairs to the door," said Panetta, an accounting student at CEGEP Gerald Godin.

Campeau went back into the burning home; the supervisor was shouting that another resident was still in bed. "The supervisor said she couldn't pick her up and I wouldn't be able to, either," Campeau said. "But I did - I don't know how, but I did."

By then, firefighters had arrived. A neighbour offered her residence to shelter the patients of the group home.

Asked if the firefighters on the scene had congratulated them, Panetta replied: "Not really ... but they were very busy."

Jean-Louis Bachand, a Montreal fire department chief of operations, said he was recommending all four men get credit for their good work.

"What those boys did was fantastic," Bachand said. "In fact, I'm filling out the forms right now recommending they receive a citation."

Firefighters were at the home within six minutes of receiving a first call at 3:11 a.m. Sunday, Bachand noted.

An extension cord placed too close to an electric radiator melted, causing the blaze, he said.

Fire prevention officers had checked the building in December; it passed with flying colours.

Donald Foidart, general secretary and counsellor to the general manager of the West Island Readaption Centre, was also quick to praise the young men.

"What they did was great. We have a lot to thank them for."

The six mentally and physically handicapped residents of the 16-year-old residence have been relocated to other group homes. Some were taken to a hospital early Sunday to be treated for smoke inhalation, but "everyone is doing fine," Foidart said.

Story by Alycia Ambroziak, The [Montreal] Gazette, Tuesday, March 07, 2006
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2006