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Editor’s blog


November 28, 2013
By Laura King


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Nov. 28, 2013, Toronto – Ah, technology.
I was a bit under the weather on the weekend after three days in Niagara Falls for the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs mid-term meeting; I blame it on the perpetual mist in the air – the spray from the falls that coats your eye glasses and car windshield – but I’m sure lack of sleep (does anyone sleep well in hotels?), too many handshakes, and re-circulated air had something to do with it.

Nov. 28, 2013, Toronto – Ah, technology.

I was a bit under the weather on the weekend after three days in Niagara Falls for the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs mid-term meeting; I blame it on the perpetual mist in the air – the spray from the falls that coats your eye glasses and car windshield – but I’m sure lack of sleep (does anyone sleep well in hotels?), too many handshakes, and re-circulated air had something to do with it.

Regardless, with most of my family away for the weekend, I had the remote and the couch to myself and after Hockey Night in Canada and a BCHL Jr. A Cowichan Capitals game online, I grabbed my laptop to catch up.

As is always the case, there were LinkedIn requests – many accepted, some ignored (who are these people?) – and, with time on my hands, I opted to update my profile, which, it had been pointed out to me on numerous occasions, was rather sparse; I had listed only my current job and my journalism/political science degree – which, it turns out, is all anyone perusing my profile really needs to know.

So, with great enthusiasm – or as much as one can muster with Kleenex and hot tea on hand – I added a litany of previous jobs (reporter/editor, editor, reporter) and a freelance writing gig with The American Lawyer magazine that I’ve been doing for eight years to keep my fingers in the legal side of things.

Well.

Let’s just say a firestorm of activity ensued.

LinkedIn, in its wisdom – because, I gather, it thinks it’s doing you a favour – sends out messages to all your connections (in my case, 500-plus) when you get a new job. Or, in this case, when it thinks you have a new job, because it can’t read, count or process the fact that 2005-present is not new.

Phone calls. E-mails. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter messages. Dozens of them (I got four more while I was writing this – not kidding!), doing exactly what LinkedIn suggested – congratulating me on my new job and then, often in ALL CAPS: PLEASE SAY YOU’RE NOT LEAVING FIRE!?!

I’m not leaving fire. I may, however, leave LinkedIn.

The final phase of the inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Centre mall in Elliot Lake happens next week, in Ottawa – a mere 11-hour drive from Elliot Lake (the proceedings are being webcast on a big screen for Elliot Lake residents who want to watch), where Commissioner Paul Belanger and most of the commission lawyers from Borden, Ladner, Gervais are based (yet the lawyers do not participate in the roundtable, although they can watch). Very convenient.

The two-day roundtable session – Dec. 5 and 6 – involves industry experts who have submitted answers to questions posed by the commissioner and will debate and discuss emergency-management practices and principles based on the issues that came up during the inquiry – incident management, communication, funding for HUSAR and the like.

I was, let’s say, curious to read the list of (by invitation only) roundtable participants for phase II – the rescue portion – of the inquiry:
• Richard Boyes and Matt Pegg from the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs;
• Deputy Chief Ron Jenkins of Toronto Fire, who looks after training;
• Coby Duerr, who leads Calgary’s HUSAR team and who testified at the inquiry;
• Dan Hefkey, Ontario’s commissioner of community safety, who also testified;
• interoperability guru Lance Valcour;
• Alex Gryska from Ontario Mine Rescue, who testified;
• Communication expert Benjamin Morgan from the City of Calgary;
• Scott Campbell, who manages the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s emergency management program;
• Eva Cohen, who I met last year at a symposium at York University on Elliot Lake and who is the Canadian liaison officer for Germany’s volunteer-based emergency response organization – Eva promotes a volunteer-response concept for Canada;
• OPP deputy commissioner Vince Hawkes;
• Fire Chief John Hay from Thunder Bay;
• Stuart Huxley, with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario;
• Basia Schrueders, co-chair of the government affairs committee of the International Association of Emergency Managers – Canadian council;
• and Ontario Fire Marshal Ted Wieckawek.

I understand that the roundtable is to look at the big picture and discuss/debate various perspectives, yet none of these people heard the full testimony (although they certainly may have viewed or read it), and only a couple testified or were in Elliot Lake for any portion of the inquiry. Just an observation.

Regardless, the roundtable submissions (which you can read online here) show some interesting trends. Most agree that
• in rescue situations, the fire chief is the incident commander;
• Canada needs HUSAR teams;
• incident command terminology should be consistent but IMS should not be mandatory;
• the municipality – not the province – should handle the media;
• the role of the Ministry of Labour needs to be clarified so that it can not intervene in a rescue. (The province’s submission, compiled by the MOL, the OFM, and the OPP, says the ministry’s role is clear in the Occupational Health and Safety Act – the MOL can stop a rescue – and does not require clarification.)

In case you are like me and are a bit of an Elliot Lake news junkie, you might be interested to know that the commission cost will come in at more than $20 million – it was originally set at $15 million with an expected $5 million overrun; and that, as OAFC lawyer Carolyn McKenna pointed out in Niagara Falls last week, the inquiry ran for 117 days, there were 125 witnesses, and 9,915 exhibits (try putting that file on your hard drive and see what happens!).

I remain convinced – as I wrote on Aug. 27 – that had the powers that be in Elliot Lake had the good sense to bend the rules (the OPP’s rules on releasing information on the deceased), or, I guess, overrule the rules, and let reporters – and everyone else – know that there were just two people in the rubble, as Fire Chief Paul Officer recommended, there would never have been a commission.

Indeed, lawyer John Saunders said last week at the OAFC mid-term, “If they had done what Paul Officer wanted, the inquiry might not have happened.”

As Officer noted in a room full of his peers, it wasn’t his call.

“I put it on the table, and it went around and the decision was made.”

Too bad.


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