Elliot Lake rescuer recounts finding mall collapse victims

The public inquiry in Elliot Lake has heard more about what first responders saw and heard when they arrived at the scene of the mall roof collapse.

Inquiry hears one victim had no pulse when found within two hours of roof cave-in

Fire fighter says he heard a 'muffled noise' when asking if anyone was in the collapsed mall. 26:07

The public inquiry probing the Elliot Lake mall roof collapse has heard what first responders saw and heard when they arrived at the scene of the disaster last summer.

The Elliot Lake Public inquiry examined a photo showing the area of the mall where the two vicitims of the roof collapse were found. (Elliot Lake Public Inquiry)

During testimony on Tuesday, Elliot Lake fire fighter John Thomas told the inquiry rescuers entered the mall and made their way to the pile of debris from the fallen section of the roof-top parking deck.

He said they called out looking for anyone who was trapped. They used a sewer camera to get a look inside the wreckage, which included slabs of concrete and steel and an SUV that had been parked on the roof of the mall.

Within two hours of the collapse, Thomas said they found a hand sticking out of the rubble.

"I reached down and I tried to get a radial pulse on her wrist," he said. "I didn't have any pulse." 

Thomas said the hand belonged to one of the victims of the collapse, 74-year-old Doloris Perizzolo.

'To me, it was somebody'

Thomas also said he and another fire fighter thought they hard a muffled response from someone else nearby.

Elliot Lake fire fighter John Thomas told the inquiry he found Doloris Perizzolo within two hours of the collapse. She did not have a pulse. (Elliot Lake Public Inquiry)

"It was a muffled noise that I heard. It sounded to me as if someone was responding back. To me, it was somebody."

Thomas told the inquiry there was too much debris in the way to get closer to where the sound was coming from. He said it stopped a short time later.

Rescue workers later removed 37-year-old Lucie Aylwin's body from that area.

'Somebody is going to get killed'

Thomas told the inquiry within hours of the collapse all rescue workers were told to leave the mall because of fears it was unstable.

He said 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.

A special OPP "urban extraction" squad based in Toronto, called the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Team (HUSAR) was dispatched to Elliot Lake around 9 p.m. that evening.

It would be days before heavy equipment arrived and the bodies of Doloris Perizzolo and Lucie Aylwin were removed from the collapsed mall.

The public inquiry was established in July 2012 by the Ontario government and has been underway in Elliot Lake 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 Perizzolo, the injuries to others and the emergency management and response.