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From the Editor: January 2014

I’ve written a lot about Elliot Lake, most of it in blogs on our websites (www.firefightingincanada.com and www.firehall.com).

January 7, 2014
By Laura King


Topics

I’ve written a lot about Elliot Lake, most of it in blogs on our websites (www.firefightingincanada.com and www.firehall.com ) . But I felt compelled to summarize those
tens of thousands of words and add a bit more insight, so that readers can understand the significance of the inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Centre mall and the emergency response to it. You can read all that starting on page 8.

Meantime, here are some inquiry tidbits worth sharing.

I first went to Elliot Lake in late August, just before Fire Chief Paul Officer was scheduled to testify. I was the only trade reporter in the media room – the guy from the local paper had taken up residence at the back table, the CBC’s gaggle of reporters, editors, cameramen and sound technicians showed up, seemingly, when the mood struck (they brought good food, though), the Sudbury CTV affiliate’s upstart reporter wouldn’t have known a pumper from a tanker if either had parked in his driveway, and the Canadian Press wire service scribe had covered most of the first phase of the inquiry (which dealt with the collapse rather than the emergency response) and clearly didn’t find phase II nearly as newsworthy as the often bizarre testimony from the mall owner and others; I was the only one who knew the players, had even heard of the provincial emergency management system, and could keep the acronyms HUSAR and UCRT straight.

So I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when I was asked by the inquiry’s media co-ordinator why a trade magazine editor would want simultaneous transcription (which was available in the court room but not the media room) given that we publish monthly. “I’m somewhat puzzled,” he said, “why a trade mag would need this.”

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I explained – patiently – that I was live-tweeting the testimony to my 1,800+ Twitter followers, simultaneously posting on my Facebook page and our Firehall and Fire Fighting in Canada Facebook pages, and at the end of the day, Storifying the tweets into a chronologically ordered diary of events – all of which required multi-tasking talent (watching the screen, listening to the testimony, recalling spellings/names/dates/circumstances/context, cramming complex testimony into riveting and accurate 140-character blocks, working the Hootsuite social networking platform, and consuming vast quantities of caffeine).

Ah, he said. “Maybe someone should do a study on the effects of Twitter on productivity.” Oh my. Having encountered this resistance to social media before, I encouraged him – very nicely – to climb on the social media bandwagon.

All of which was a bit disturbing given that word of the mall collapse spread over social media like wildfire and that considerable misinformation was disseminated over Twitter.

On a brighter note, it’s interesting being immersed in a story such as Elliot Lake: you get to know not only the key players, but also the peripheral characters – the knitting lady, who sat almost daily in the centre of the courtroom, behind the lectern at which lawyers questioned witnesses, ensuring that she was on the televised feed; the members of SAGE – the Seniors Action Group of Elliot Lake or, as it affectionately became known, Seniors Against Government and Everything Else; and the building’s custodian, who graciously opened doors when I tried to balance a camera, laptop, BlackBerry, iPhone, tape recorder and the
ever-present caffeine.

Then there were the t-shirts; red, rather than fire-department-issue blue, with the words “Elliot Lake Fire Department, Proud to know them” on the front, and the names of the ELFD members on the back. I wore mine on the opening night of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs conference in September, just as the testimony in Elliot Lake was wrapping up. Because I am, indeed, proud to know them. 


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