Most people in Canada have probably read or heard about the mall roof collapse in Elliot Lake, a small town in Ontario. Any SAR member was probably paying attention when Bill Needles, spokesman for Toronto’s Heavy Urban SAR Team (CAN-TF3) said the following
The building is unsafe, totally unsafe… I had to make the decision that it is not safe to put the workers back in there because it could be a devastating collapse,
This immediately led to a hue and cry, and a political response. Today we have the Mayor of Elliot Lake Rick Hamilton talking to the Premier of Ontario Dalton McGuinty, who in turn is talking to the Prime Minister.
This is the worse case scenario for a rescuer — the politicians are putting pressure on front line workers to reverse their decision on the safety of moving forward on a rescue response.
Think about this for a moment. Toronto HUSAR are undeniable experts in their field. They are an internationally recognized rescue team, one of five qualified heavy urban SAR (HUSAR) teams in Canada, and the highest qualified in their field in this country. They’ve examined the situation and made the determination that it is too dangerous to continue the rescue effort.
If anything, officials at all levels of the emergency services should have their backs on this decision – supporting them is the only thing an untrained and uninformed person in political office should be doing.
Instead, several politicians at all levels of government are using this opportunity to be seen to be making political points. Dalton McGuinty in particular seems to be taking the “credit” for convincing the HUSAR guys to continue the rescue effort.
I can best sum this up in the words of Don Bindon, president of BCSARA
Though it may be a hard pill to swallow, rescuers have to put their own safety first. It’s difficult for civilians to understand … but as a commander, you cannot allow yourself to get caught up in the desire to do very good things at the serious risk of the people that are doing the work,”
Rescue work can be dangerous. 90% of the work is evaluating the risk and mitigating it by using techniques, procedures, and safety equipment. Once in a while the risk exceeds all ability to mitigate it, and it’s at this point we make the Go/No Go decision. The experts made the No Go decision.
How would the politicians going to feel if their pressure results in a rescuer getting killed?
Update: It appears the experts from around the continent are agreeing with my assessment: