4 Toronto fire trucks taken out of service
Changes will increase fire response times in some neighbourhoods, fire fighers' union says
The City of Toronto has four fewer fire trucks on the road and one fewer fire hall as of Monday morning. The pumpers are being taken out of service and the station closed due to cuts in the city's 2013 budget.
Two of the engines previously served in Scarborough, as well as one in Etobicoke. The fourth engine will be decommissioned from Fire Station 424 on Runnymede Road near Bloor Street West, which is closing permanently.
According to Frank Ramagnano of the Toronto Professional Fire Fighters' Association, the loss of the trucks will lead to longer response times in some neighbourhoods.
Ramagnano says that a typical commercial or residential blaze can double in size as little as three minutes, so every second firefighters are on the scene counts.
"If you were relying on that fire truck you’ll have to wait one or two more minutes for another truck to respond," he said.
"The more people you have on scene, the sooner they’re on scene, the more capable you are to fight that fire."
Since amalgamation in 1998, Toronto has added about 2,000 new buildings to its cityscape and additional 300,000 people are being served by Toronto Fire Services, but the fire department has had to cope with a series of cuts, Ramagnano says.
Approximately 84 firefighters will be affected by the changes, but none are expected to lose their jobs. They will likely be reassigned to positions left vacant after about 70 senior firefighters retired in the first three months of 2014.
Neighbourhood resident Audrey Robinson circulated a petition last year in an effort to save Fire Station 424 after city council voted to shutter the fire hall.
"It makes me feel like we're losing a big part of our street actually ... like losing a loved neighbour," she said.
She's concerned about how closure might affect the safety of residents, and what kind of structure will replace the station.
"First and foremost the safety of the community having one less station ... secondly, what is going to happen to that building and what could be put in place of it down the line?"
Ward 13 Coun. Sarah Doucette, who called the closing "premature," says that nearly 4,000 condos are going be built in the area in the coming years and it remains unclear how the city will ensure the safety of new residents moving to the neighbourhood.
Out in Scarborough, Heather Wilkinson worries what will happen now that Pumper 215 is out of service.
That was the truck that responded when a fire broke out next to her home over the weekend.
"Whenever you’re decreasing a service, there’s no way that you can say that safety isn’t a factor because there’s no way to measure that until something like this happens," Wilkinson said.
But Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong says response times won’t increase and safety won’t be affected.
"We've been able to find efficiencies without affecting service in any significant or substantial way. This has been reinforced by the underwriters," he told CBC News in an interview on Monday.
Minnan-Wong points out that the insurance body that rates the city's ability to fight fires says the cuts aren’t an issue.
"We're increasing the number of fire prevention officers, which is what they're recommending," he said. "So I think on balance, if you put all the facts on the table, it’s a wise and appropriate decision."
But Wilkinson said the city should reconsider the cuts.
"It doesn’t have to do with politics, it has to do with having first-class services in a first-class city," she said.
Firefighters' union vs. the mayor
The closure of the fire station and the decommissioning of the four fire trucks is the latest development in ongoing public dispute between the firefighters' union and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
On Monday morning, a series of paper signs displayed on the garage door windows of Fire Station 424 read "Closed by Rob Ford."
The TPFFA have been outspoken critics of city hall's cuts to the fire service. The dispute peaked in January, when the TPFFA released a short ad criticizing budgetary cuts and implying that the cuts put lives at risk.
Fire Chief Jim Sales condemned the ad after it was released and said that response times would not be affected.
Sales is due to speak to the media on Tuesday about the decommissioning of the four fire trucks.
The union has also criticized Ford's use of a fire truck during his 2014 mayoral campaign amidst the budget cuts. Ford's campaign manager, his brother Doug, has said the truck is not a Toronto Fire Service engine and that his brother Randy purchased the truck privately for $4,000.
With a report from the CBC's Steven D'Souza