The search for victims after the tornado: ‘It’s really just about trying to prioritize. You know, the most urgent to the least’

Each building was searched more than once

The calls to 9-1-1 came in mid-afternoon Thursday. Hundreds of them. People reporting a tornado in southeast Barrie.

A steady stream of emergency vehicles headed to the area around Mapleview Drive and Prince William Way. At the time, first responders could only guess what kind of situation they were heading to based on what callers had said.

“It looks like every fire truck in Barrie just went up my street,” said one resident near Big Bay Point Road and Hurst Drive.

All the training firefighters, police officers, paramedics, hospital officials and others in the community do on a regular basis to prepare for a disaster suddenly became the real deal.

Barrie Fire Chief Cory Mainprize is also the director of emergency services.

Barrie 360 asked him how first responders even try to begin to bring a sense of control in a scene of chaos as they enter into a search for people who could be trapped in their homes or beneath collapsed structures.

“Once you arrive on scene, we develop an incident action plan starting with what appears to be the most severely damaged areas and work our way up,” said Mainprize. “The rapid assessment to determine which houses are the most significantly damaged, which ones may or may not have people in them, and then start the search process from there.”

There were a few structures that first responders could not enter due to structural stability issues. For those situations, Mainprize said they called out and made some access holes to get a better view until they had some confidence it was safe to enter.

“In other ones, we were able to enter and literally search under every bed, behind every closet door to make sure there was no one remaining in the structure.”

Mainprize said first responders found a lot of people around damaged homes, but not necessarily inside them, or they were in the process of trying to gather some things to evacuate.

“Then we systematically started to identify which buildings we had searched so we knew when to move on. We started to develop a master map to determine which ones we completed primary searches, secondary searches, which ones were habitable and which ones were not,” Mainprize explained.

The concern wasn’t just for people. Mainprize said they also searched for any evidence of pets that were still behind so crews could provide that support later on.

“It’s really just about trying to prioritize. You know, the most urgent to the least.”

If anybody reported someone missing, Mainprize said questions were asked where the last place that individual had been seen and then a search crew would be dispatched to that area.

Several hours after the tornado had roared through and the sky had partially cleared, the City of Barrie held a media briefing to report no fatalities, and at the time, eight people had been transported to the hospital with four suffering from serious but non-life-threatening injuries. County of Simcoe paramedics were also able to treat a number of patients who did not require hospital treatment at the scene. At the update, Mainprize said a secondary search was being conducted.

Once that search had been completed, Mainprize could be confident in reporting that everyone had been accounted for.