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HUSAR in command at rescue, Neadles says

Sept. 10, 2013, Elliot Lake, Ont. – The HUSAR leader has final authority at a rescue scene when it works with the smaller OPP UCRT team, Bill Neadles said Tuesday at the inquiry into the June 2012 collapse of the Algo Centre mall. 

September 10, 2013
By Laura King

Sept. 10, 2013, Elliot Lake, Ont. – The HUSAR leader has final authority
at a rescue scene when it works with the smaller OPP UCRT team, Bill
Neadles said Tuesday at the inquiry into the June 2012 collapse of the
Algo Centre mall.

“That’s always the way it has been when we’ve worked together before,” Neadles said.

Neadles commanded the rescue sector of the operation in Elliot Lake.
Because the OPP’s search and rescue team – known as UCRT – is structured
to work one 12-hour shift a day, whereas the HUSAR team can go for 24
hours, “we would plot them into a rotation,” he said.

“They are doing work up front and then they normally go to bed, then
when they set the next operational period, that’s when we would set them
into the tasks as we saw required for that rescue team – just like we
would plot in our own rescue team.”

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Neadles noted that the UCRT team was short staffed and that its most
senior member – a staff sergeant, who would liaison with the overall
incident commander – was not in Elliot Lake, and this complicated
on-scene communication.

OPP members have already testified that not all UCRT members went to
Elliot Lake – some were on vacation or leave – and that protocols will
change so that a staff sergeant is always deployed with the team.

Neadles explained the protocol when the two teams work together.

“UCRT being a medium team – HUSAR is a heavy team – they’re deployed
first; they’re a smaller quicker more agile team,” Neadles said.

“And they do whatever needs to be done immediately to help the local
services, to affect any rescues that need to be done, and they work as a
reconnaissance team for HUSAR, so that when we do arrive we have as
much and as good information as we can, then they would fall into work
with the heavy urban search and rescue team.”

Not all HUSAR members were in Elliot Lake either, and that also caused
problems, primarily because there was no designated planning or media
co-ordinator on scene, which meant Neadles had to assume other roles
while commanding the rescue sector.

“It’s a report up through the chain of command and information is given
to media on our behalf,” Neadles said of the usual media protocol. “That
isn’t how it worked out.”

HUSAR co-ordinator Doug Silver usually handles media, Neadles said.
Ironically, Silver was in Ottawa for meetings about the Joint Emergency
Preparedness Program – the now-eliminated federal entity that partially
funded the HUSAR teams.

Neadles said under questioning by commission counsel Mark Wallace that
there was no planning chief for the team in Elliot Lake – just 34 of the
team’s 70 or so members responded – and that there was no one to take
notes for him at the scene until June 26.

Several witnesses have testified in phase 2 of the inquiry, which
focuses on the rescue, that both UCRT and HUSAR members were doing more
than their assigned roles in Elliot Lake.

Neadles said the team decided to send the 34 members rather than put out another call and wait for others to show up.

Neadles told Wallace that resources were focused on the rescue, rather
than on note taking – Wallace has drilled several witnesses about their
on-scene records – but agreed it would have been ideal to have someone
scribe for him from the moment the HUSAR team got on the bus to Elliot
Lake from Toronto.

The OPP’s UCRT team was questioned by commission counsel earlier about
the fact that just 13 of its members deployed to Elliot Lake and that
there was no senior member to act as a critical incident commander.
Several team members were on vacation or leave.

Neadles said the relationship on scene with Elliot Lake Fire Chief Paul
Officer was great and that there were no concerns, and they agreed the
HUSAR team would run the rescue because it had more expertise than the
Elliot Lake Fire Department in building collapse.

There has been considerable discussion during the inquiry about the
timing of the call for a crane and whether the request for that piece of
heavy equipment was delayed.

Wallace walked Neadles through an e-mail exchange with the OFM’s
Carol-Lynn Chambers on the bus ride to Elliot Lake. Chambers assured
Neadles that the Ministry of Labour has no authority to stop a rescue.
And she told him that the most urgent needs were a structural engineer, a
heavy crane, and a relief crew for the UCRT team.

Neadles said photos sent to his BlackBerry on the day of the collapse
did not provide enough information for him to determine whether a crane
should be ordered. He also said knew that members of the OPP’s UCRT team
were already on scene and could establish whether the equipment was
needed and call for it.

Wallace asked Neadles why he was communicating with the OFM rather than
with the OPP’s Sgt. Jamie Gillespie, who was on scene. Neadles said he
was getting sufficient information from Chambers and that he didn’t need
to bother Gillespie, who was involved in the search at the site.
Chambers testifies Sept. 18.

Earlier Tuesday crane company owner Dave Selvers was critical of the HUSAR team, which he said was ineffective.

Selvers was later challenged by lawyers for the Ontario Association of
Fire Chiefs, the City of Toronto and its HUSAR team, and the province.
Selvers said he had no knowledge of incident command or NFPA standards
and little experience with building collapses or rescues. The province’s
lawyer pointed out that Selvers’ company, Millennium Crane, was fined
$70,000 in July by the Ministry of Labour for use of unsafe equipment.