June 28, 2012 - The comments on the blogs posted here yesterday, and the
e-mails I’ve received in the last 24 hours, speak volumes.
Once again, the emergency response industry is left to defend itself against issues beyond its control, with misinformation propagated by poorly informed (lazy) reporters and columnists and angry and frustrated loved ones who, as one astute deputy fire chief pointed out to me this morning, misdirected their grief – on their worst days – at those who would, if they could, move heaven and earth to make things better.
That the HUSAR team members who heard the tapping by a woman trapped in the rubble of the collapsed Algo Centre were ordered to stand down and were equally as frustrated at not being able to get to her and the other victim has finally sunk in, I believe, after yesterday’s news conference in Elliot Lake (HUSAR team members did not, as one CBC reporter put it last night, fail).
The standing ovation for Toronto’s CAN-T3 during the news conference, after team leader and incident commander Bill Neadles said – in his quiet yet authoritative way – that team members would have stayed for weeks to help the people of Elliot Lake, seems to have swayed public opinion, although perhaps not that of certain reporters and columnists.
It’s a start.
It’s unfortunate that tragedy had to happen to bring to public light the fact that Ottawa is cutting its portion of the funding for the five HUSAR teams, but that’s typical in emergency services. Despite best efforts, taxpayers and politicians don’t seem to get the emergency response industry, its myriad challenges and the need for proper funding, not just for specialized rescue teams, but for desperate fire departments with 25-year-old trucks, 15-year-old bunker gear and no public education programs.
Dozens of good people are working hard behind the scenes to help Ottawa understand that federal dollars are needed for equipment and training. Fire chiefs from coast to coast to coast are battling councils that have little or no regard for safety standards or best practices.
So, what now?
The legacy of Elliot Lake will most certainly be a better system of building inspections – and, perhaps, a hard look at the logic of parking lots on shopping-mall roofs.
But there’s also opportunity here for the emergency-response sector to wake up – and shake up – the electorate.
I’ll do my part. Will you?