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Rescue teams lack co-ordination

laura-kingAug. 23, 2013, Elliot Lake, Ont. – The two provincial rescue teams that responded to the Algo Centre mall collapse in June 2012 had not trained together regularly and have no plans to do so, OPP Chief. Supt. Robert Bruce said Friday at the commission of inquiry into the incident.

August 23, 2013
By Laura King

Aug. 23,
2013, Elliot Lake, Ont. – The two provincial rescue teams that responded to the
Algo Centre mall collapse in June 2012 had not trained together regularly and
have no plans to do so, OPP Chief. Supt. Robert Bruce said Friday at the
commission of inquiry into the incident.

Bruce
said the OPP’s urban search and rescue/CBRN team, known as UCRT, and the
Toronto-based HUSAR team, which is known as Task Force 3, operate separately.  

Commission
counsel Bruce Carr-Harris summed up the superintendent’s testimony: “UCRT and
TF-3 could arrive at the same site in splendid isolation,” he said. 

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Supt. Bruce
also told the commission that the incident command system used by the Ontario Provincial
Police was not employed in Elliot Lake.

“As we
know it, an incident command system was not in place,” Bruce said. 

“You need
a unified incident command structure with an overall incident commander. Every
agency is represented by its incident commander, and then the overall IC is
responsible for the overall operation.”

Elliot
Lake Fire Chief Paul Officer testified earlier this week that unified command
was employed, that he was the incident commander for the overall scene, and that
Toronto HUSAR team leader Bill Neadles – who is a Toronto Police Services staff
inspector – was the IC for the rescue sector. Others have also testified that
Officer had control of the scene and was the IC for the duration of the rescue
effort. 

Earlier
Friday, OPP Const. Patrick Waddick, who is part of UCRT, told the inquiry that communication
among responding agencies about stopping the search for victims was not
adequate.

“The
breakdown is in communication and management on the scene,” said Waddick. “Had
there been representatives for all resources, there would have been a better
understanding of what’s going on inside [the mall] and the fire chief would
have been better informed of his options, and [the operation] would have proceeded
a lot smoother.” 

Waddick
said he was not aware that the Elliot Lake Fire Department had control of the
scene because he reported only to his OPP superiors. He also said he did not
know that Neadles was in command of the rescue sector, rather he thought that
OPP Sgt. Jamie Gillespie was the IC.

The
inquiry had heard considerable testimony this week about incident command  –which is being used interchangeably with the
term incident management – and perceptions of who or what agency stopped the
search of the Algo Centre on Monday, June 25, 2012.

Elliot
Lake firefighters and Chief Officer have said there were no issues among UCRT,
HUSAR and the fire department, and that everyone did their jobs and got along
well.

Waddick
gave lengthy testimony about the shoring system used to stabilize the rubble
pile so rescuers could search for victims, and the widely reported but yet
unconfirmed (through testimony) Ministry of Labour order to stop the search.

Waddick
said OPP team members knew the building was unsafe from the beginning and he was
frustrated when he heard that the search was being called off by the Ministry
of Labour.

“The building
is already unsafe,” Waddick said. “It’s compromised. We understood that risk.
We accepted that risk for the reason of recovering those victims.

That term,
I find very hard to swallow – I’m in a confined area that has been compromised.
Yes, it’s unsafe. It was unsafe the first day, it was unsafe when we left.”

Waddick said
two Ministry of Labour inspectors told him on Tuesday, June 26, 2012, that
there had been no issue with the rigging on the rubble pile or the safety and
tactics of rescuers, and read from his notes from June 26 at 1830.

“Spoke
with Ministry of Labour occupational health and safety inspectors Don Jones and
Michael Lacroix, who were both on the scene and had observed the entire rigging
and removal on 24 June [2012].

“Asked if
they had any issue regarding our safety or the tactics used to remove the
debris. Both men answered no.”

Waddick
said he explained to the inspectors why he was asking; because “TF-3 [HUSAR] called
off rescue due to MOL calling structure unsafe.”

He said the
inspectors replied, “That conversation never happened.”

Waddick
said later in the morning that his understanding of that comment was that the
ministry had, in fact, not issued an order to shut down the rescue operation.

With
considerable testimony still to come in the rescue portion of the inquiry –it
is scheduled to run until Oct. 3 – there is still confusion among spectators
and others about who made the decision to stop the search for victims in the
damaged Algo Centre, and why.

The
collapse happened on Saturday, June 23. The search stopped on Monday, June 26,
after which Premier Dalton McGuinty intervened and heavy equipment was brought
in to dismantle the structure.

Waddick
said rescuers had removed the bulk of the debris from the rubble pile and
needed three or four more hours to reach the second victim.

Waddick
said he didn’t know the Ministry of Labour did not have the authority to shut
down a rescue operation.