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An Elliot Lake fire fighter has shared what happened during the chaotic hours when the rescue at the collapsed Algo Centre Mall was called off.
During testimony at the Elliot Lake Inquiry on Tuesday, Captain John Thomas said rescuers were ordered out of the mall because movement was detected and the building was deemed unsafe.
At that point — which was two days after the roof collapse — Thomas said the heavy urban search and rescue team from Toronto said it was going home.
"The building was too unsafe," Thomas recalled. "They couldn't predict what this beam was going to do. That they were done and started getting ready to pack up their equipment. They were hoping to be out by midnight."
Thomas told the inquiry the community was very upset when the news was shared publicly.
He said a short time later he was told a piece of heavy machinery was coming from Toronto to ensure rescue workers could get to the victims.
But at that point, Thomas said he believed it was a recovery mission — and not a rescue. This was Thomas's second day of testimony at the public inquiry into the June 2012 fatal mall collapse.
Last week, Thomas told the commission he made contact with the two women trapped in the rubble.
Thomas told the inquiry that, within hours of the collapse, all rescue workers were told to leave the mall because of fears it was unstable.
At first he continued with his rescue efforts, but left when ordered by his fire chief.
"The way things were moving and dropping, and the pieces we wanted to cut, there was so much stuff hanging down, I was getting nervous," he said.
"I was starting to think, ok, somebody is going to get killed."
Close to tears at times during his testimony, Thomas told the inquiry he agreed with the decision to get rescue workers out of the failing building.
The commission has called frontline responders to speak at the inquiry about their emergency response to the roof collapse.
The public inquiry was established in July 2012 by the Ontario government and has been underway in the community since March.
It was created to report on events surrounding the mall roof’s collapse on June 23, 2012, the deaths of Lucie Aylwin and Doloris Perizollo, the injuries to others and the emergency management and response.
The public inquiry is expected to last until late October.