By Peter Sells
June 27, 2012, Toronto - I have no qualms about paraphrasing comic-book icon Stan Lee in the title of this piece, because his body of work stands head and shoulders over what I have just read in the Toronto Sun. What passes for journalism in this country is often laughable, but I cannot let today’s column by Joe Warmington pass without comment.
By Peter Sells
June 27, 2012, Toronto – I have no qualms about paraphrasing comic-book
icon Stan Lee in the title of this piece, because his body of work
stands head and shoulders over what I have just read in the Toronto Sun. What passes for journalism in this country is often laughable, but I cannot let today’s column by Joe Warmington pass without comment.
In a pointless attempt to defame Staff Inspector Bill Neadles, the incident commander of CAN-TF3 at Elliot Lake, Warmington printed this:
“It’s just not safe.” — HUSAR leader Bill Neadles.
Was Juno beach safe?
How about Vimy Ridge or Helmand Province?
A few questions for you, then, Joe: Is Elliot Lake a military conflict? Is the risk profile of an amphibious invasion or a trench warfare assault the same as that of a civilian search and rescue operation? You know that the answers to those questions is no, or if you don’t know that then you have no business writing on the subject. I have often used historical military parallels in my columns and blogs, to illustrate examples of planning and the application of strategic or tactical concepts; but the objectives and risks inherent in the military and civilian spheres are quite different.
A military operation is designed to achieve a specific set of objectives with losses (both uniformed and civilian) to be estimated, integrated into the plan, measured and hopefully minimized. The achievement of the objectives is paramount. A firefighting or rescue operation also has a defined strategic objective, but life safety trumps all else. Chapter 8 of NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, states that risk management shall be used on the basis of the following principles:
• Activities that present a significant risk to the safety of members shall be limited to situations where there is a potential to save endangered lives. (Risk a lot to save a lot.)
• Activities that are routinely employed to protect property shall be recognized as inherent risks to the safety of members, and actions shall be taken to reduce or avoid these risks. (Risk a little to save a little.)
• No risk to the safety of members shall be acceptable when there is no possibility to save lives or property. (Risk nothing to save nothing.)
• In situations where the risk to fire department members is excessive, activities shall be limited to defensive operations.
So your question, “When would such an emergency rescue mission, which would require bringing in the Heavy Urban Search And Rescue Team (HUSAR), ever have safe conditions?”, has to be taken in the context of emergency-scene risk management. The responsibility for risk management ultimately rests with the incident commander. At Elliot Lake, the IC is Staff Inspector Neadles, and he is well trained at this task.
You go on to say that, “Only in nanny-state Ontario could somebody decide the working conditions for rescue workers in a catastrophe were not safe enough to do what they are trained, and paid, to do.” Only in Ontario, eh, Joe? Such authority is written into the Occupational Health and Safety legislation in every jurisdiction in Canada. How can you possibly not know this?
Take some comfort, though, that you are not alone in getting this all wrong. In your rival paper, The Toronto Star, Rosie DiManno criticized operations at Elliot Lake by pointing out, quite correctly, that as of Tuesday night, “there had still been no request to Ottawa for DART to be dispatched, despite Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s offer to get the armed forces involved. DART cannot mobilize unless they receive a formal request for assistance and they hadn’t been asked.” A sparkling bit of investigative journalism by Rosie there. The Disaster Assistance Response Team has four goals: to provide basic medical care in affected communities; to produce safe drinking water; to repair basic infrastructure such as roads, bridges or electrical systems; and to facilitate communications. DART is not a rescue team, it takes several days to deploy, and typically sets up to stay in place for about six weeks. I guess if anyone in Elliott Lake gets thirsty next week, the second-guessing can begin.
Shame on both of you.