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Elliot Lake chief clarifies labour ministry role

laura-kingAug. 21, 2013, Elliot Lake – Fire Chief Paul Officer said Wednesday that the Ontario Ministry of Labour does not have the authority to regulate an emergency rescue scene because different rules apply in emergencies than in industrial operations.

August 21, 2013
By Laura King

Aug. 21, 2013, Elliot Lake – Fire Chief Paul Officer said Wednesday that the Ontario Ministry of Labour does not have the authority to regulate an emergency rescue scene because different rules apply in emergencies than in industrial operations.

Officer told counsel at the inquiry into rescue portion the Algo Centre collapse that Carol-Lynn Chambers of the Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal had confirmed to him that in an emergency situation such as a rescue, the ministry can not override the fire department’s mandate to take certain risks to save lives.

Essentially, Officer said, the fire department – in an emergency situation – is exempt from the regulations that apply to everyday industrials practices.

There has been confusion – which has not yet been clarified in testimony – over which agency stopped the search by Toronto’s Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) team of the Algo Centre in Elliot Lake after its roof collapsed last summer, trapping and killing Doloris Perizollo and Lucie Aylwin.
   
HUSAR team leaders and Ministry of Labour inspectors are scheduled to testify in September. According to Officer’s testimony on Wednesday, three Ministry of Labour personnel – including at least one inspector – were on the scene shortly after the collapse on June 23, 2012.

Officer spent most of the day Wednesday explaining the incident management system, unified command, size-up, the role of a safety officer, and what he saw and experienced when he arrived at the scene at about 2:30 p.m.

Officer said he called for a meeting of the community control group, which comprises municipal officials and agencies and advises the incident commander, when he recognized that an emergency should be declared – about 20 minutes after arriving at the Algo Centre.

Officer said he was aware of the role of Toronto’s HUSAR team, but not the OPP’s special UCRT team which, according to its website, specializes in “the potential of new and emerging threats of terrorism”. Members of both teams arrived later Saturday and early Sunday.

Officer said his own firefighters exhausted all possibilities to try to reach what they believed to be a second victim before pulling out of the mall for safety reasons. “We didn’t achieve what we wanted , obviously,”  he said. Lucie Aylwin’s body was later removed from the rubble.

Earlier Wednesday, Elliot Lake Fire Capt. Darren Connors told the commission that he understands now that being ordered out of the Algo Centre by fire department safety officer Ken Barnes was the right decision.

“If one of us is injured or killed it changes how everything goes,” Connors said.

That sentiment was reinforced later by Officer, who explained to the commission the fire service mantra risk a lot to save a lot, risk a little to save a little, risk nothing to save nothing.

Officer was asked late in the afternoon by commission counsel to explain the chain of command among the Elliot Lake Fire Department, the HUSAR team and the OPP’s UCRT team.

Ultimately, Officer said, the UCRT team was “rolled into” HUSAR, and HUSAR team leader Bill Neadles was in command of the rescue sector. He said there was some initial griping about this structure by at least one UCRT member, but that ultimately “Neadles had free rein” over the rescue sector.

“This was the only gripe I heard,” he said. “But you can’t have two competing teams. One expert has to be running the show.”

Officer said he retained command over other sectors, such as accountability.

Officer is back on the stand Thursday.

Click here for a wrap of today’s live coverage.