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April 13, 2015, Toronto – With apologies to family and friends in Atlantic Canada, it’s spring. Which means that in the next few weeks, those of us who write about or sell to the fire industry are heading northwest, to Dryden, Ont., for an emergency management forum, southwest, to Indianapolis, for FDIC, and back to Toronto for the Ontario chiefs conference and trade show.

That’s just the first leg, but after this harsh and dismal winter of everyone’s discontent, during which fire fatalities made headlines far too often, bad hotel food and blisters from walking trade-show floors will be a welcome diversion.

This week in Dryden we’ll hear (more) about the mall collapse in Elliot Lake and the response to it, flooding in Fort Frances, the Lac-Megantic disaster, and the tornado in Angus, Ont. We’ll hear about pandemics, panic and weather patterns, wildfires and cross-border co-operation. And we’ll hear from partners such as the Red Cross – a vital agency in the emergency-response chain.

I used to think emergency management and incident management were bureaucratic terms used in other places where bad things happen to good people – massive earthquakes in faraway countries that kill thousands, for example.

But the list for this week’s Northwest Emergency Response Forum blows up that theory: structural collapse with two fatalities in a former mining town; a train derailment and explosion that killed 47 people in Quebec’s Eastern Townships; and significant weather events in rural Ontario. These incidents alone involved hundreds of first responders, municipal managers and members of partner agencies. And it’s crucial that those people know how to work together.

We know that in Elliot Lake after the Algo Centre mall collapsed in June 2012 there were some communication issues among responding agencies, that there was confusion over rescue versus recovery. We know two responding teams – Toronto’s HUSAR and the OPP’s UCRT – had never trained together. We know the province is reviewing incident management and that in Ontario the Office of the Fire Marshal is now also responsible for emergency management.

We know that some of the lessons learned in Elliot Lake were applied in Angus in June 2014 when a tornado ripped roofs and backs off homes in a quiet subdivision: communication was first rate; a scribe was used to take notes; duties were clearly defined. Nothing had changed on paper – by government – but those in charge had read and listened and acted. (I like to think we played a small part – that the lessons learned were applied because the responders read our blanket coverage of the Elliot Lake inquiry online and in our magazine!).

I’m looking forward to Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek’s presentation Tuesday called The Changing Face of Emergency Management, to find out where things stand. Will there be clarification on the role of the Ministry of Labour during a rescue, as recommended in the Elliot Lake inquiry report? What’s going on with the provincial incident management system – it is being reviewed but what’s the status of the review and who or which agencies are involved? Is there a plan for search and rescue teams, or funding?

The province said in November 2013 – almost a year before the inquiry report was released on Oct. 15, 2014 – that it would review IMS, figure out how the HUSAR and UCRT teams could train together, and improve communication among agencies.

The province should be well on its way to making the changes recommended by Commissioner Paul Belanger in the report that was released six months ago.

Fire Marshal Wieclawek speaks first thing tomorrow afternoon. I’ll let you know what he says.

Read Laura King's blogs part 1 and part 2 from the Northwest Response Forum.

April 13, 2015
By Laura King


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