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Firefighters Are Not Gravy!

Toronto firefighters' union takes to YouTube to assert their necessity.

In anticipation of next year’s city budget negotiations, Toronto Professional Fire Fighters Local 3888 put up a YouTube video Tuesday to remind the public that their positions are essential. Backed by an urgent orchestral soundtrack reminiscent of a cinematic battle scene, the video presents a photo montage of Toronto Fire Services (TFS) crew members in action; superimposed onto these images are captioned statistics.

“For 2010, TFS had 276,729 unit responses,” reads one caption. “Fire Underwriters Survey states we are currently staffed at 2/3 of the standard compliment of staff for Fire Code enforcement,” says another. The city needs more fire fighters, these stats imply. Not less.

The video came out the day after a Toronto Star report of TFS lags in dispatch time, which stated that Toronto trucks average eight minutes or more to get to a fire call when the standard is six minutes or under. Fire chief William Stewart attributed that service gap, in part, to the department’s funding situation.

“With what’s been going on in the city over the last few months, and with several negative comments made about our profession in the last few months, we felt this was one way for us to address the concerns that we had,” says Damien Walsh, vice-president of TPFF Local 3888, told us today. Following interest from a number of the union’s members, Walsh says the video was put together over the last few weeks.

Who are they hoping sees it? “Well certainly our members, and the public,” says Walsh. “We’d like to think both.”

City firefighters have been uneasy since July’s City-contracted KPMG core service review, which eyed TFS as one of the first services to face potential downsizing. It’s what led them to hire former Rob Ford advisor Nick Kouvalis to help with their messaging, in anticipation of layoffs in the 2012 budget. Now, that possibility feels even nearer. While TPFF Local 3888 isn’t expecting their small social-media push to become an overnight viral sensation (it is devoid of cats, after all), it’s become the group’s collective shout in the dark.

“It certainly provides a morale boost for our members who feel that they have been a little underappreciated in the city lately,” says Walsh. “And we see it as an educational tool for the public for them to be able to see what it is that firefighters do.”


  • Anonymous

    I think one of the most interesting points in the video is that a 10% reduction in budget for the TFS would raise the TFS insurer’s underwriter rating, which would lead to higher costs for businesses (4 times more than the savings), which would then affect consumers. It demonstrates how complex these systems and relationships are; far from Ford’s gravywashed rhetoric.

  • Anonymous

    Honesty. Integrity. Loyalty. Not the words that first spring to mind, when the name Nick Kouvalis comes up.

  • W. K. Lis

    The population of Toronto is going up. That means more people needed to be served per firefighter, police officer, or transit driver. More people means less efficiency. If the population was going down (like in some U.S. cities) then yes reduce the number of civic workers, but if the population is going up, we need more civic workers.

  • Nobreaks?

    Hey firefighters – what’s anchor sleep and why is it in your contract?

    • Anonymous
      • Anonymous


      • Nobreaks?

        Thanks, tips.
        Now, please explain why we’re paying firefighters to SLEEP.

        • Anonymous

          Because they generally work 4 days and 4 nights. Instead of having them try to stay awake and generally become a hazard to their job during the 4 night shifts they provide them with beds to sleep if they choose. They are on shift, they are just sleeping until something happens.

          Should we only pay a store clerk when a customer is in the store?

          • Guest

            You have no idea what you’re talking about. Toronto firefighters ‘work’ 24 hour shifts. 7 shifts per month. If they’re busy for that long then it is unsafe for them to perform duties when they’re that sleep-deprived. Don’t worry, though, they’re not sleep deprived as their call volume is very low. They are paid to sleep and I have a real problem with that. I expect that public servants perform their job efficiently and it is becoming increasingly clear that this organization needs to be adjusted to serve their purpose (fire protection). Arranging for paid sleep for FF so they can ‘work’ 24 hour shifts is a waste and should not be allowed.

          • Anonymous

            Hey Sue Ann. Shouldn’t you be writing a new piece about how children don’t need food programs?

  • Guest

    This video does nothing to address the problems reported with the Toronto Fire Service. The report, which has been kept from public scrutiny for two years, shows glaring failures of the TFS which have to do with their dispatch efficiency and their speed to move from chair/bed to their truck when responding to emergencies. Adding more firefighters/stations/trucks as a solution is absurd. If they’re truly concerned for the well being of the community then taking responsibility for their failures would be better than the fear tactics based on well-spun numbers.

    • Johnny_Canuck

      I haven’t looked at the response time reports, but, you hit on two problems. Dispatch at times holds up calls. This is not the firefighters fault. Getting the rig out the door in a timely fashion is. The officer on duty should be held accountable for this. This does not mean you should cut staffing nor their budget. Over burdening by cutting staffing or cutting their pay will have long term effects on the department as a whole.

      • Guest

        I agree with you: the front-line guys and girls do a GREAT job. Their propaganda of being underfunded and untouchable is a farce, however. Their service is mismanaged and their intent to expand their services when their current portfolio is so poorly operated is absurd.

        The TPFFA is trumpeting the response time increase that will occur if any part of their service is cut – if they focused on their job instead of whatever else it is they’re doing (instead of getting in the truck and responding in a prompt fashion) perhaps their response times would improve.

        While your suggestion of holding the officer on duty accountable is fair, it would not address what is clearly a systemic problem. The efforts of the TFS to suppress the release of this study is disgraceful – lets hope we see some improvements as a result of the public viewing.

    • F.F.

      what you are not told in any reports is crews can no longer get suited up in the back of the trucks, they must be fully in gear and seat belted in before the truck can leave the station.
      This was put into place by the city to avoid compensation claims if a firefighter was injured en route to a call. Or how about automatic door openers Like the ones you have for your garage that often don’t work properly and the crews have to jump back out of the truck to close the apparatus bay doors. So many other things the public doesn’t understand have impact on response time. but apparently you already know it all

  • Nicholas Porter

    I think we all know that the men and women of the TFS are not gravy. What I’d like to know is how much would be saved by amalgamating the TFS and EMS? I’m no expert, but joining the two seems like a no-brainier to me.

    • Anonymous

      Would that stop the dispatching of fire trucks to minor traffic accidents?

      • Johnny_Canuck

        I work at a department in the US that requires all firefighters to be crossed trained as minimum EMT-I’s. We respond to every call from stubbed toes to cardiac arrests to structure fires. It has it’s ups and downs. Spending half a million on a fire engine to go on a call that is nothing more than stubbed toe seems a little wasteful. But on the other hand when it comes to something major such as cardiac arrest, I bet it seems like a bargain to the family involved.
        As for sleeping on duty, I work 24 hours on, get up and go to my second job at another department and work another 24 hours. Should I not be able to sleep or should I do that on my 24 hours off before I start it over again?

    • Guest

      Do some reading and you’ll find that EMS/fire mergers are good for firefighters; not good for patients and not good for city budgets. Canadian cities that have merged have either separated the two at a later date or, after a decade of difficulty, wouldn’t make the same decision again.

      Paramedics and firefighters do VERY different jobs and they do them well. Paramedics provide mobile health care; firefighters provide fire suppression and rescue. Merging them because they sometimes respond to the same 911 calls makes as much sense as merging paramedics and public health because they both administer medications.

      Different skills, different jobs.

  • Anonymous

    Let’s cut the TPS budget by 10% and give half of it to TFS. Crime is falling, but TFS’ response time is rising.

  • Ἀντισθένης

    Simple: take some money from the thugs on the police force and give it to the heroes fighting fires.