ELLIOT LAKE, Ont. – The disaster team that deployed to the site of last year’s deadly mall collapse came under withering criticism Tuesday over its role in the rescue operation.
In testimony at the judicial inquiry into the tragedy, crane company owner Dave Selvers said the Toronto-based Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Team showed “limited efficiency.”
“(They) were of no use whatsoever in a situation like this,” Selvers noted.
“This team did not have any idea as to the means required to perform this operation.”
Selvers’s company, Millennium Crane, was called in hours after part of the mall’s rooftop parking deck collapsed in June 23, 2012, and worked under direction of the Ontario Provincial Police.
His crew arrived on the scene the next morning at a time when it was feared victims were still alive in the rubble and removed some of the precarious debris.
Selvers said he thought the heavy urban search and rescue team — known as Canada TF3 — under Toronto police Staff Insp. Bill Neadles had no idea how to go about the rescue task.
“There were too many people relaying too many different messages,” he said of the team’s leadership.
“I didn’t know what directive was going to be fired at me next.”
TF3 is one of five specialized urban search and rescue teams in Canada that can respond to disaster situations.
But Selvers said TF3 did not have the needed equipment, and didn’t appear to understand anything about building construction yet was reluctant to tap the expertise at hand.
He said he was surprised at the search team’s reluctance to call in a heavy crane to remove rubble partly because of the roughly $2,500 an hour cost.
“I thought life was worth more than that.”
By contrast, Selvers said the provincial police rescue team was “organized and professional” while several TF3 people were “walking around doing nothing.”
Neadles, who began testifying after Selvers, shocked the community two days after the collapse when he announced the rescue effort had been called off.
Previous witnesses have testified about the dangerous state of the building.
However, many residents believed people were still alive in the rubble and demanded the rescue resume. There was even chatter in town that a group of men were planning to storm the structure themselves late at night to look for victims.
The official search did continue hours after it was called off — after a phone call with the premier.
“This got very political and it was very frustrating,” Selvers said.
The bodies of Doloris Perizzolo and Lucie Aylwin were pulled from the rubble four days after the collapse.
Coroner Dr. Marc Bradford testified last month that both women likely died quickly.
Perizzolo, 74, was killed “almost instantly” after being crushed, the inquiry heard.
Aylwin, 37, likely suffocated under the weight of rubble on her chest. There was no evidence she had survived for any length of time, the autopsy showed.