June 26, 2012 - I don’t know that I’ve ever been so frustrated by coverage of a news story as I was after watching CBC’s The National last night.
The search for missing shoppers and employees in the collapsed Algo Centre shopping mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., had been called off yesterday afternoon, the structure deemed too unstable and unsafe for rescuers to continue working.
HUSAR Incident Commander Bill Neadles, who spoke at a news conference, was clearly upset by the call. His CAN-TF3 team came to Elliot Lake to try to save lives and its members were being publicly – nationally – ridiculed for stopping the search, a decision that wasn’t theirs but was based on the advice of engineers who said they can’t understand why the building hadn’t already collapsed further. Indeed, Neadles said the building could fail unexpectedly at any time and beams and concrete slabs had been falling.
Then came the emotions, tears and swearing (the F-bomb on The National is a rare occurrence but it was offered up last night by the fiancé of a woman believed still alive and under the rubble). Angry Elliot Lake residents screamed at cameras, accused the HUSAR team of giving up and said they’d continue the rescue themselves – a ridiculous statement made in the heat of frustration and anger. It all made for good TV; what it lacked in context it made up for in sensationalism. The words RESCUE FAILURE were splashed over the screen in the introduction to the story. Peter Mansbridge said calling off the search had “potentially condemned survivors to death”.
Who made the decision to stop the search (the Ministry of Labour is on site but it’s not clear from reports which agency made the call)? How do those in charge weigh the risk – in this case an enormous risk – to potentially dozens of rescuers against the potential benefit of saving a life or lives, or recovering those with little or no chance of survival? How does the rescue operation work and how risky is it?
And now it’s political: Premier Dalton McGuinty, under pressure from angry residents in a mining town where the culture dictates that no one is ever left under ground, has asked Emergency Management Ontario that rescuers find other ways to try to extricate those who may still be alive, and the operation has resumed.
Elliot Lake Fire Chief Paul Officer, in the toughest position of his life, said rescuers will use more extreme measures – we’ll be watching today to see exactly what that means.
Meantime, the Toronto HUSAR team, or CAN-TF3, which was deployed to Godderich, Ont., after a tornado in 2011, and the four other teams in Vancouver, Calgary, Manitoba and Halifax, will be disbanded at the end of the year when JEPP funding runs out (see Peter Sells June Flashpoint column). Will there be a hue and cry now that CAN-TF3 has been called into action? Or will the legacy be Elliot Lake, where the highly trained but not-often-deployed team was ridiculed for agonizingly heeding a risk/benefit analysis that may have saved their own lives?
Written by Chad Sartison on 2012-06-27 07:27:08
Great and brave article Laura not withstanding the PR nightmare or the accuracy of the reporting this is a dangerous subject to weigh in on. The reporting is most certainly sensationalized but it is arguably a sensational story.
Not withstanding this specific event I believe the greater question is what have we signed up for when we agreed to be firefighters? We speak a lot lately about risk vs reward but I don't think we have quite figured out what it means. Irrespective of how ill-conceived the notion, it should not have come as a surprise that the town was willing to go in without us!
Two of my current volunteer firefighters are retired Canadian soldiers. They most certainly did not sign up to get shot but they did indeed get shot at. There is no workers's compensation, OH&S or unions in the military, I am not sure it would work if there were. After all there is nothing safe about getting shot at.
For the record I am darn glad we have these organizations protecting us in the fire service but ideologically there is nothing safe about going into a burning building or a collapsed structure no matter how you cut it. Every one of these rescuers are heroes, not for going in as much as wanting to go in in the first place and we all know none of them wanted to leave.
I have little doubt that this was not an even remotely safe environment to be in, but what made who think they could possibly leave unnoticed?
|Alan Thomas Jr.|
Written by Alan Thomas Jr. on 2012-06-26 14:11:25
Here’s my synopsis of the information reported by the media.
Please keep in mind that this is the first time many of the folks involved in the “Command” structure have had an event of this type to deal with. We live in an environment of “accountability and transparency, neither of which are conducive to the command structure those of us in the emergency services eeal with on a daily basis. When those two systems collide, this is the result. The same thing occurs every time this happens and this event is by no means the first. Do some research on the Swiss Air crash and look into the issues of jurisdiction and authority.
It’s a difficult mountain to climb and we can only hope that the powers that be can sort it out. Leadership is the key component when these issues arise.
I can assure you that staffing and funding are not an issue, we have excellent resources on the ground.
It’s important to keep an open mind and take media reports with a grain of salt.