06/27/2012 02:18 EDT | Updated 08/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Why Didn't the Elliot Lake Rescue Workers Do Their Jobs?


It may already be too late to save anyone trapped in roof collapse of the building in the Elliot Lake mall, but rescue attempts have been less than gallant.

Appalling, even.


Even when there was evidence that one or two were alive in the wreckage -- with about 30 people unaccounted for -- decisions were made that conditions were too dangerous for rescuers to attempt anything.

Barely 48 hours after the collapse, rescue efforts were called off -- until Premier Dalton McGuinty intervened and locals vehemently protested.

Good lord! Don't the Emergency Measures people know that rescuers are supposed to risk their lives to save others? Quitting because of danger is like soldiers refusing to fight for fear they might be hurt. One only has to look at various mine disasters around the world -- including the Springhill coal mine disasters in Nova Scotia some 50 years ago -- for examples of heroism by miners risking their lives to save others.

For rescuers to quit, pleading danger to themselves is unseemly. If there'd been a call for volunteers, there'd have been no shortage of applicants in Elliot Lake. They just wouldn't have had the training and expertise of EMO professionals.

Every time there's a serious fire, there's never a shortage of fire fighters who'll risk everything to save victims.

Anyway, we weren't there, so it's perhaps unfair to judge too harshly the reluctance of rescuers to take chances in Elliot Lake.

It's fair to say that post mortems on this roof collapse will be controversial.

Already there are reports of the building's roof leaking for years, and being examined and judged safe for occupants. The roof collapse was an inevitability waiting to happen.

Isn't it interesting that we in Toronto are faced with something mildly similar, with chunks of the Gardiner Expressway periodically falling onto moving cars. Work crews try to repair the damage when concrete falls down, but one has to wonder if someday whole sections of the overpass will crash down on motorists?

Suppose we have a rare earthquake, as in Oakland, California during a World Series baseball playoff? Would the Gardiner Expressway collapse?

Some want the Gardiner torn done, to give better access to the lake front. That ain't going to happen -- can't happen, if one considers the traffic tie up that would prevent commuters entering and leaving the city in an orderly way.

So the band-aid approach will continue.

None of this is consolation for the people of Elliot Lake.

But the reluctance of rescuers to keep at it, is something we've not seen before in Canada or elsewhere. When aircraft disappear over the ocean, or in the north, search and rescue people keep searching long after all reasonable hope has been exhausted. And in a startling number of cases, they find people still alive.

That was the case with the Tsunami-earthquake in Japan, and the earthquake in Haiti. Searching went on long after time had expired and people were found alive.

The Elliot Lake roof collapse occurred Saturday afternoon, and on Monday rescue attempts were officially called off -- until the Premier decreed otherwise.

Even if conditions were too dangerous for rescuers, they should have explored alternatives. Frankly, it's hard to understand why anyone would quit when it was known (or believed) victims were still alive in the wreckage.

Not a very commendable moment.