Whether it was just a badly phrased moment in a press conference or not, Toronto’s Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team has not done itself any public relations favours in the aftermath to the partial collapse of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake:
The story of the collapsed mall in Elliot Lake, where the rescue mission is back on after being suspended on Monday because officials deemed the building too “unsafe,” has so far deviated from romantic tales of heroism and rescue, spiralling instead into talk of delays, strict mandates and “limited resources.”
A spokesman for Toronto’s Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team, Bill Neadles, said on Tuesday the group was still in its “infancy” — that aside from winning some industry competitions and running mock rescues, HUSAR, as it is known, had only participated in one operation: a gas explosion in 2003. He said when he initially told residents on Monday the team had “reached the end of its mandate” he did not mean they were abandoning the operation, he “just didn’t want to lead anybody to believe I was going to come back with a silver claw and walk on water.”
[. . .]
In Elliot Lake, no one has been spirited away alive, at least not yet. One person is thought dead and a dozen are feared missing. At least one is believed to have made a noise amid the rubble on Monday morning.
“One of the things that gives rescue a sort of romance is the idea that you go in and you get the job done … and that’s one of the reasons this Northern Ontario mall story is so 21st century,” said Bob Thompson, a pop culture expert at New York’s Syracuse University. “Here we’ve got this potentially romantic rescue story, and what do we see? Good ol’ fashioned bureaucracy.”
When most Canadians think of rescue, they do not think of government inner-workings: a Ministry of Labour structural engineer suspending a search; provincial officials having to explicitly give the Toronto team the authority to go back in; a premier intervening to make that happen.
“If you had put 100 miners in there, they would have been out by Saturday,” said Greg Dillavough, a retired miner who once worked in mine rescue in the Northwest Territories and Ontario. “You don’t walk away from a site when someone’s alive.”