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Communication failed at Elliot Lake

laura-kingSept. 11, 2013, Elliot Lake – Communication among rescuers over operations at the site of the Algo Centre mall collapse failed, the inquiry into the rescue portion of the incident heard Wednesday morning.

September 11, 2013 
By Laura King

Sept. 11, 2013, Elliot Lake – Communication among rescuers over operations at the site of the Algo Centre mall collapse failed, the inquiry into the rescue portion of the incident heard Wednesday morning.

Toronto Police Staff Insp. Bill Neadles, who commanded the rescue sector of the operation in June 2012 and headed Toronto’s HUSAR team, agreed with commission counsel Mark Wallace that there was a “failure of communication,” particularly concerning a crane that was to be brought in to move debris.

Wallace questioned Neadles extensively over his notes from the scene, which were sometimes sparse.

On Sunday, June 24, Neadles said rescuers believed there were four people unaccounted for as their cars were are still in parking lot. Two women died in the collapse.


Neadles had said that early on in the operation, he hadn’t wanted any information about potential victims released because the situation was very sensitive, and that was made clear to the Office of the Fire Marshal. Neadles said he didn’t want information that he provided to emergency agencies in Toronto to get back to the residents of Elliot Lake.

Neadles said that he did, however, on Sunday – the day after the collapse – want to release fact that there were just two people in the rubble, one deceased and one who may have been alive.

“I agreed with Fire Chief [Paul] Officer that the longer the wait the harder it gets and more you appear to be hiding something,” Neadles said. “And that giving [reporters] decent solid information is the way to go.”

Neadles said he and others at the scene communicated mainly verbally – they talked to each other – rather than through notes, but Wallace said he found it surprising that Neadles hadn’t discussed certain rescue tactics with Comella, including the potential removal of a slab of concrete.

“Do you not have an explanation for that?,” Wallace asked. “. . . You would agree with me that it’s not a very smart communication strategy to be out talking about things you may do if you really have no idea that they’re even possible?”

Neadles agreed that talking about potential tactics without knowing for sure what would work “may not be the most sound strategy.”

“But actually removing of the slab needed to be followed up,” Neadles said, “and when it was followed up it proved to me that it wasn’t possible.”

Neadles said earlier Wednesday that he was surprised to learn that Ministry of Labour inspectors were on site when he arrived in Elliot Lake.

“I was personally quite surprise that they were there that early in the game,” he said.

There is still confusion about the role of the ministry on site. Those details are expected to be clarified in the coming weeks.

Neadles said under questioning by Wallace that at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 24, it had been reported to him that two OPP members made some kind of contact with what they believed to be victims.

“[They] put out a couple of callouts and asked for a tap and received three, then asked again and received two, then there were no further taps,” Neadles said.

He said the OPP members believed the taps be in response to their callouts.

“They got some response from what [they] believed to be a victim in the pile,” Neadles said.

“They were just a very hollow sound of what he believe to be someone tapping on some concrete or an object. They were a very hollow quiet tap.”

Wallace asked Needles if he believed the reports of the tapping to be credible.

“I did believe it was a credible connection,” Neadles said.

“Based on that,” Wallace asked, “you were of the belief that as of 0930 on Sunday morning, you had a live victim.”


Coroner Marc Bradford testified earlier that Doloris Perizzolo had died instantly and Lucie Alywin died within a short time of the collapse.

Later, Neadles was asked about indications of breathing in the rubble picked up by a tool called a LifeLocator, which was used by the OPP UCRT members just before midnight on June 23 and again at around 4 a.m. on June 24.

OPP Const. Steve Hulsman had earlier testified that the LifeLocator picked up breathing signs when he and others were within 15 metres of the tool; the operating instructions recommend that no on be within that distance when the tool is being used, Wallace said.

Wallace also told Neadles that the results from the LifeLocator indicated that there were possible victims at between 2.7 metres and 6.2 metres below the machine, which would have put them well below ground.

“That distance would put the victim beneath the floor of the mall,” Wallace said. “Were you made aware of that?”

“No sir,” Neadles said.

Neadles said he did not question the LifeLocator results because he had faith in the OPP’s UCRT rescue team and trusted “that they wouldn’t not put an asset into play unless they felt they had sufficient training and could operate it . . .”

Neadles is expected to be on the stand most of the rest of the day.

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