TORONTO - When flames tore through an east end townhouse Saturday morning, pumper 215 was among the first Toronto Fire trucks to arrive at the scene.
Frightened residents, some wearing pyjamas, were still scurrying from their homes at 167 Morrish Rd. as firefighters dragged out their hoses and began battling the blaze.
But thanks to the city’s budget cuts, the blaze was among the last the crew from that fire apparatus will respond to together.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re losing that truck as well as three others,” Toronto Professional Fire Fighters Association President Ed Kennedy said Saturday. “If that fire happened Monday, that truck wouldn’t be there.”
In an effort to save millions of dollars in its 2014 budget, the city is decommissioning pumper 215 — along with three other pumpers in Scarborough, Bloor West Village and Etobicoke — as of Easter Monday.
“It’s a sad day for the citizens of Toronto,” Kennedy said. “And it’s a day of concern.”
“It’s going to mean slower response times for those communities, so it will impact safety,” he added.
The fire trucks to be removed from service are pumpers from stations on Meadowvale Rd., north of Ellesmere; Lapsley Rd., near Sheppard Ave. E. and Markham Rd.; Albion Rd., near Finch Ave. W.; as well as Runnymede Rd., near Bloor St. W.
In fact, the Bloor West Village fire hall, Station 424, is slated to be closed entirely. And the 84 firefighters affected by the closure and decommissioning of the fire apparatus will be relocated, most into positions vacated by the 70 firefighters who retired in the first three months of 2014, Kennedy explained.
The union boss, who is among those being reassigned from the Scarborough fire halls to Station 235 on Bermondsey Rd., said a class of about 40 new recruits that was planned to start in January was also scrapped.
Kennedy said he believes Torontonians would be fired up about the fire service cuts but most are unaware, which is why the TPFFA has been on a mission to “educate” people.
“It would cost each citizen less than $8 a year, or about two cents a day, to keep these trucks on the road,” Kennedy said. “That’s all it would have been. I think most citizens, if they knew that, would say, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
Kennedy pointed out that the city’s population has swelled by several hundred thousand people since amalgamation 16 years ago and Toronto Fire, unlike other emergency services in the city, has not added staff.
“We’ve been doing more with less,” he said.
When the city amalgamated, Toronto Fire had 128 trucks and 80 stations, Kennedy said. Now 16 years later there are 128 trucks at 82 stations.
As of Monday, there will be 124 fire trucks at 81 stations, he said.
“The fire service is like an insurance policy,” Kennedy said. “Hopefully you don’t need us but when you do, let’s hope we’re there quickly and with enough firefighters.”
When it comes to fires, he pointed out that “every second counts.”
“It’s just not worth the risk,” Kennedy said, adding slower response times will put lives in jeopardy.
But the chair of the city’s budget committee says response times will be affected “negligibly” and there will be “just as many fire trucks available to fight fires.”
“The response time should just go up minimally, if at all,” Frank Di Giorgio said. “I really think the fire chief, who is responsible for managing all that kind of stuff, feels he has adequate resources to do the job.”
Di Giorgio said Toronto Fire plans to incorporate other “innovative techniques” to ensure service is maintained, such as adding fire prevention staff.
“When you put greater focus on fire prevention, theoretically you’ll have fewer fires to cope with,” he said.
Di Giorgio also said the four fire trucks in question “are not normally in service anyway.”
However, Kennedy said the councillor is misinformed.
“Pumper 215 responded to the fire in West Hill (Saturday), so clearly it is being used,” he said.
Kennedy said on average four trucks are pulled from the road daily due to manpower shortages, but the trucks are chosen randomly from across the city.
He said the city should have waited until the new fire prevention staff have been added and other changes made, then conducted a “risk analysis assessment” before considering any service cuts.
“I definitely think the city has made a serious mistake here,” Kennedy said. “They should reconsider this.”
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