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Comment: August 2015


July 16, 2015
By Laura King


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I first met Toronto Fire Services Capt. Chris Rowland on March 8, 2013, at a symposium about the Elliot Lake mall collapse. The inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Centre and the emergency response to it had started four days earlier.

Rowland responded to Elliot Lake as part of Toronto’s heavy urban search and rescue team – the one Ottawa no longer funds.

I talked to Rowland again several weeks ago after he helped rescue a trapped hiker who ended up in a crevasse in a conservation area north of Toronto.

Rowland happened to be on shift when Clearview Fire & Emergency Services and Barrie Fire & Emergency Service called the provincial emergency operations centre for mutual aid after having spent more than six hours trying to free the hiker.

Mutual aid. Standardized training. Co-operation among agencies. Incident command. And no egos. All lessons learned from Elliot Lake which, perhaps, saved a man’s life.

The June 20-21 operation was one of the most serious technical rescues requiring mutual aid since the recommendations from the Elliot Lake commission of inquiry were released on Oct. 15, 2014. Ontario’s fire chiefs have been thoroughly briefed on the recommendations – both at their mid-term meeting in November 2014 and their annual conference a few months ago in Toronto.

Many of Commissioner Paul Belanger’s recommendations related to incident management and rescue were successfully implemented in the Nottawasaga Conservation Area, in the middle of the night; almost 50 paramedics, police officers and firefighters – from three separate departments – collaborated.

What’s interesting, to me, is that while fire chiefs have heeded the recommendations, there have been no formal changes to the unwieldy provincial IMS system and no legislative amendments. There are committees and sub-committees – 15 in total, I believe – reviewing the recommendations with a mid-October deadline to report back. And leadership at the Ontario Office of Fire Marshal and Emergency Management has been . . . lacking.

Hiker Seth Rowe benefitted from the expertise of Toronto’s HUSAR members, who hung upside down, chiseling with one hand to expand the opening.

Belanger also recommended that Ottawa restore funding for HUSAR. I’m not holding my breath.

As Capt. Rowland said, everyone learned from Elliot Lake. “Clearview Chief Colin Shewell was still the incident commander, we made sure that we didn’t step on Barrie’s toes; it was still their rescue. We were content to be there and make a hole for him and bring him out. It was real positive co-ordination among the teams.”

All without any government help.


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