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Social Worker Dies in Fire
May 15, 2014 permalink
Sudbury social worker Nicole Belair died Tuesday, the day after she was injured in a fire. She was visiting a client at the time. Her funeral will take place on May 19 in Sudbury.
Sudbury woman, hailed as fire hero, succumbs to injuries
Reports on social media say Nicole Belair passed away Tuesday.
The Children's Aid Society has also issued a release to say it is mourning the loss of Belair, "a valued colleague and friend."
“We are shocked and profoundly saddened by the impact of this tragic accident, Colette Prevost, executive director of the Children’s Aid Society of the Districts of Sudbury and Manitoulin, said in the release.
"Nicole was a dedicated and experienced worker, and had built incredibly strong bonds with the youth and families she served. She will be missed by countless colleagues who have come to depend on her passion and commitment.
"First and foremost, our energies are being focussed on providing support to those most closely impacted by this incident – Nicole’s family and co-workers, and the youth and families to whom she was so fiercely dedicated. Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this time of such incredible loss.”
Friends and former clients of a critically injured social worker were praying for her recovery Tuesday as officials continued to investigate a blaze in Hanmer that sent two to hospital and displaced 14.
Nicole Belair, 33, was visiting a female client Monday at the 14-unit complex on Rita Street when fire broke out in the apartment of tenant Diane Paquette and spread to the building's top floor.
The Children's Aid Society worker "had just shown up," said the client's sister Marissa. "She ran in and got my sister Jaymee out, but came back into the building and was found unconscious."
The sisters' last names, as with other CAS clients who spoke with The Star, are being omitted out of respect for security concerns.
Paquette suffered serious burns and was transported to Toronto, while Belair was unresponsive and needed to be resuscitated by paramedics. As of Tuesday afternoon she remained in critical condition in the intensive care unit of the Ramsey Lake Health Centre.
"She saved my sister's life," said Marissa. "We're all hoping she pulls through, but it doesn't look good."
Jaymee was treated for smoke inhalation and released, said Marissa, but lost all her belongings to the fire and remained very distraught Tuesday about the condition of her rescuer and mentor Belair.
"Nicole's been part of her life for a very long time and they built a relationship that was more of a friendship," said Marissa.
That was true for other Crown wards who came under the wing of Belair. A former client named Tash described the social worker as "the type of person who puts people ahead of herself."
She said Belair was her caseworker for a decade but "even after I left care she was still a big part of my life."
Belair is "supposed to get married next month," said Tash. "It's really sad."
For Tiffany, yet another member of Belair's unofficial family, the social worker "basically became a best friend and parent to me."
The Sudbury woman is now living in southwestern Ontario and poised to graduate from university.
"My graduation is next week and she was supposed to come to it," she said through tears and sobs. "She basically got me to where I am in life, pushed me to go to post-secondary and to become successful and not repeat the cycle."
Tiffany is now working with youth herself in foster and group home settings. "She's inspired me to be who I am now," she said.
The women had the sense that Belair remained in the burning building to help others. "I wouldn't doubt it for a minute," said Tasha. "That was definitely Nicole's personality."
Others in the neighbourhood pitched in to rescue tenants as smoke poured out of a shattered window.
Brian Slegers, passing by the site of the fire before emergency personnel arrived, witnessed a group of good Samaritans grabbing ladders from a neighbouring house and shepherding a tenant to safety.
"Local people saw it and ran over," he said. "There was an older lady on a balcony and they were helping her out."
Lise Brosseau, commenting through the Star's Facebook site, said her boyfriend, Christian Robert, helped liberate the mother of Carole Pigeau from a second-floor unit. "He couldn't just leave her up there, and he wanted to go inside so badly to see if anyone was left behind," she wrote.
Investigators with the Ontario Fire Marshal's office remained on site Tuesday to conduct a forensic excavation, but had not issued a statement as to the cause of the fire by press time.
They did, however, say the fire began in the ground-floor apartment of Paquette, who used oxygen and told neighbours an explosion occurred when she opened her fridge on Monday afternoon.
Source: Sudbury Star
Buried on Monday.
Sudbury salutes heroic social worker
A police honour guard accompanied the funeral procession Monday as family and friends gathered at St. Andrew's United Church to remember Nicole Belair.
The 33-year-old social worker and bride-to-be was tragically killed last Monday after helping a client escape an apartment fire in Hanmer, but her strong spirit and compassion for others lives on in the hearts and minds of many, especially those of her immediate family.
Her father Gilbert Belair spoke on behalf of his wife Lorna and sons Marc and Adam Monday, noting "if it wasn't for extended family and all those who prayed for us and upheld us, we would have never gotten through this."
The shaken parent said when tragedies happen to others "you can watch the news and gloss it over a bit, but when that tragedy hits your home it's very difficult."
Belair said his daughter grew up in Wawa and Sault Ste. Marie, but moved in her late teens to Sudbury, which "she certainly made her home."
He described her as a good student and "a comedian," recalling Christmas dinners when "she would have us all in stitches, even though we were all so full we could barely move."
When he last saw Nicole, "I gave her a big hug, as I always do until the next time I see her," he said, his voice choked with emotion. "I never expected it to be a hug that would have to last for an eternity."
Partner Stephen Davidson, whom Nicole was poised to marry on June 28, thanked the medical staff who "fought hard for Nicole and never gave up," and especially the "two ICU nurses who never left Nicole and gave me and my family reassurance that she was well looked-after and loved."
He said it was impossible to sum up his feelings about his betrothed in one speech. "I really can't say goodbye, because I can't write enough words on a piece of paper to describe how much I love her," he said. "She was so many different things to me — she was my guardian, my companion, my soul mate. She was my best friend."
He recounted meeting Nicole 10 years ago on the patio of Cactus Pete's, where he worked as a DJ, and how she had "such an aura of attitude, it was just wild." While she was initially cool to his charms — in part because he didn't play her requests — the two soon hit it off and established a life together.
When they bought a house and moved in, Nicole loved everything about it except one small detail. "She walked into the bathroom and said the vanity has to go," he recalled. "Within a couple of hours of being in the house, she had torn apart the vanity and it was out the front door."
That, said her fiance, "was Nicole to a T. She never waited for anyone to do something she could do herself."
It was a mixture of toughness and empathy that drove Belair's work with the Children's Aid Society, which became a second family to her as well as a vocation.
"I think of all the impact she had on the children she's dealt with, all the people who moved on out of her care, as well as her team," Davidson said. "Her team meant everything to her; she loved every one of you ... they were all her sisters."
Many of Belair's colleagues were in attendance at the funeral, as was Colette Prevost, executive director of the CAS.
"Child protection is undoubtedly not for the faint of heart," she said. "Nicole had the heart that it takes to do this kind of work."
In speaking with colleagues and former clients about Nicole, "I have heard countless stories that describe a woman who was fierce in how she cared for the kids she worked with," said Prevost.
"These were her kids. She did not stand for anyone speaking anything but positively about them because she saw the potential and good in each and every one of them."
Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen said the value — and bravery — of such work cannot be overstated. "Like our officers, like others in EMS, like those I see represented here from the Canadian Forces, she was out on the front line, day in and day out, helping people."
As a child protection worker, Belair "saw people at their most vulnerable," said Pedersen. "And more than that, she saw children, the most vulnerable of all of us, at their most vulnerable."
On behalf of "all the men and women of the Greater Sudbury Police Service," Pedersen pledged "she will always be remembered, as we try our best to emulate her as we build safety and well-being in our community."
Source: Sudbury Star
The CBC broadcast the words of Sudbury CAS executive director Colette Prevost (mp3).