Meet the man who wants to take Torontonians 'behind the yellow tape' at Toronto Fire
Matthew Pegg has served as Toronto interim fire chief since May 2016 when Jim Sales stepped down
Toronto's new fire chief says when word went out he had been appointed to the top job, he couldn't use his phone anymore because of the seemingly unending number of alerts that kept it buzzing.
"I'm very honoured by what happened," says Chief Matthew Pegg. "My Twitter machine more or less blew up."
Pegg has been serving as Toronto interim fire chief since May 2016, when former chief Jim Sales took a leave of absence (eventually stepping down in October).
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He was appointed to the job after a North America-wide recruitment search during a week in which he was front-and-centre in a story that made headlines across the continent.
Face of rescue operation earlier this week
When a 22-year old Toronto woman became stranded after climbing onto a construction crane this week, Pegg was the face of the rescue operation. It was his calm voice explaining to reporters and television viewers live on air what was going on during the delicate efforts to bring her to safety.
Pegg sees it as yet another chance to bring the public behind the yellow tape that goes up around emergency operations.
"It is our opportunity to explain to residents who pay for [Toronto Fire Services], to understand the resources, capacity and expertise that are being provided in the city 24/7."
Pegg also says his job is to maintain an effective working relationship with city council.
Over the past year, he's helped Toronto Fire Services deal with plans for the budget cuts required for all city departments. But he says ultimately it is up to councillors, and not the fire chief, to make decisions about fire response service levels.
He says those financial constraints pushed the department to find efficiencies and ways to maximize its resources.
One of the programs he's most excited about is additional training for to new recruits, equipping them to not only fight fires, but also teach fire prevention skills and do basic fire safety inspections.
'Sense of calm for the community'
"When they're deployed on the trucks ... they're fully qualified operations firefighters, but they also have the technical credentials to be involved in public education and code enforcement at no additional cost."
Another one of his goals is to make the Toronto fire Service more diverse and more representative of the community. He says efforts to streamline qualifications and to work with equity and human resource officials to remove systemic barriers are working.
"We're seeing cool results," he says. "The recruit class in the Fire Training Academy right now is the most diverse in our history."
Pegg thinks it is vital for the chief to be the face of the fire departmen, and to help it connect with the public, either through traditional media, or through his twitter account (which has amassed more than 2,200 followers).
It was an insight he learned first hand in February, when fire destroyed the Badminton and Racquet Club of Toronto on St. Clair Avenue West.
Pegg was the go-to person, answering questions from the media and residents about the fire-fighting efforts, and tweeting out updates that reached more than 400,000 people online.
"One of the lessons we've learned and one of the things that has been reinforced is that it really is the fire chief's role to be that connection point between what's going on with the operation and with the residents.
"So really my role is to be that face and voice, but really to be that sense of calm for the community."