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politics

Toronto Fire Station 424, Caught in the Budget Crossfire

Concerned about public safety and their neighbourhood's heritage, Runnymede-area residents take to the streets.

A throng of Runnymede-area residents gathered outside Fire Station 424 on Friday night and warmed themselves with Christmas carols and hot chocolate. If it were the middle of the day on a weekend, the whole scene would have seemed like a block party. Instead, it was a rally to save the historic firehall, slated for closure as a cost-cutting measure under the current version of the City’s 2013 operating budget.

“It’s set to close in January,” said Audrey Robinson, a local volunteer with Friday’s rally. “We don’t know what will happen to the property. Hopefully not sold to developers, but there’s a possibility, of course.” It’s the latest west-Toronto landmark up for liquidation under Rob Ford, following last year’s bid to close the High Park Zoo. The case for closing the 1929-vintage firehall has to do with redundancy. With four neighbouring stations, number 424, Ford has said, is “expendable.”

Runnymede residents disagree.

Though the City maintains that first response times would barely be affected by the station’s closure—overlap with neighbouring units renders 424 mostly obsolete, officials say—local residents believe that the station is still important. “There are other stations in the neighbourhood, but this particular station covers this part of the community,” Robinson told Torontoist, “and they get calls daily. A woman right on Runnymede here placed a 911 call last night because EMS wouldn’t get there on time. She was in delivery, going into labour, and [personnel from Station 424] delivered her baby for her. Because they got there in under two minutes.”

Those anecdotal examples aside, area councillor Sarah Doucette (Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park) points to harder, more statistical indications of the station’s importance. “This fire station on first response covers 5,200 students in our local schools every day,” she said during Friday’s rally. “There’s an awful lot of students in one place.” And with residential development underway on Bloor Street across from High Park, the overall population is likely to rise.

Councillor Doucette speaks to residents about the impending closure of Station 424.

Those future condo high-rises will need all the fire services they can get, according to Doucette, because they’re trickier for firefighters to enter. “They don’t just get to the front door of a single-family home,” she said. “They have to then climb the stairs to get to the fire. So by the time they get to the fire, the seconds are counting, and you probably need a second truck. What happens if a Swansea truck is out and they need a backup? Runnymede is the backup.”

As the caroling continued, Doucette spoke a little louder. “This is not what we voted the mayor in for,” she said. “He said no service cuts.” In contrast to Ford’s typical narrative about taxes being universally awful, Doucette said her community is willing to pay more. “They’re quite happy to pay their property tax, maybe increase it a little bit to keep this hall here,” she said. “That’s what I’ve been hearing. You know, if we put this back in the budget, what will the property tax have to increase to? Right now they’re looking at 1.95 per cent.”

The station, a fixture at the corner of Runnymede Road and MacGregor Avenue, also has some heritage appeal. It has stood in the same place since the end of the 1920s. It’s one of the most recognizable firehalls of its kind in Toronto. Residents say it’s an invaluable icon of Runnymede’s past. But even that consideration pales before the very real, very urgent overarching concerns about public safety in a growing neighbourhood.

Doucette remains optimistic. “That’s one thing I love about my neighbourhood,” she told us. “I mean, when the pools were going to be closed, everyone rallied and we came up with a business plan. When they were going to close the Swansea Memorial Library, we saved it within, like, four hours of it being closed. At High Park, we had the Jamie Bell playground rebuilt within months of the fire.

“This is what this community is all about,” she said. “We all work together, and it’s such a good feeling.”

All photos by Himy Syed.

Comments

  • http://twitter.com/wklis W. K. Lis

    When the TTC had a zero increase in fares one year, in year two the fares increased big time to cover inflation and other increases beyond their control.

    Same here with property taxes. Trying for zero or low increases will only mean big time increases later to cover shortfalls. Ford has no control over inflation or increases of people to live or work in Toronto. He forgets that the people from the 905 who use the roads, parks, and other infrastructure do not pay for them. (Fuel taxes only pay for provincial roads such as the 400′s, not the Gardiner or Don Valley.)

  • rob

    It wouldn’t be hard to add tolls on main roads such as the Gardiner or Don Vally, like in many other major cities to cover people working and collecting money from the city just to put it to another in their taxes. Have cameras set up(like the 407) to take pictures of license plates. An example down south would be any plates gets 2 free passes a month, so visitors (jays game’s, museums, shows etc) don’t get the extra cost.

    Far to many people work in Toronto but don’t pay taxes here. I for one do NOT want a service cut where seconds can mean lives, whether it’s a car accident, haz-mat spill, down wires, or a fire. “A marginal” cut is still a cut!

    • http://twitter.com/wklis W. K. Lis

      In some jurisdictions, have a collision that involves the local fire department (for cleanup), out-of-towners are billed (to their insurance company or them directly). Does Toronto bill out-of-towners for collisions where the fire department gets involved? What about the police? If they end up on the scene or they have to report to the collision centre, non-locals should be billed.

  • Anonymous

    Ford lied – plain and simple. He wants no increases – or below inflation increases – in taxes as a first priority. When he said “no service cuts” he was either too naive and stupid to be Mayor or a deliberate liar.

  • Joe McBlow

    i wonder how many of these people want lower taxes?

  • Anonymous

    Chief Sales, former Chief Stewart and former Chief Speed have all been clear on the redundancy of this station. It was recommended for closure as far back as the 1999 KPMG Station Location Study. Closing it will cost all of possibly 26 seconds in response time.

    Why has Councillor Doucette not just as aggressively pursued the Fire Service for failing to deliver on their promised 60 second reduction in turnout time (the time it takes our firefighters to get dressed)?

    The Councilor has been similarly quiet on the findings of the WPI FPRF Mobilization Study. The study that showed Toronto Fire was the slowest dressers of the 14 North American fire departments examined. Toronto Fire 161 took seconds to get dressed. The rest of NA took 123 seconds or 38 seconds less than our fine men and women in uniform.

    Why do these “getting dressed” seconds not warrant the same outrage from Councillor Doucette as the “driving” seconds occur from closing this station? All seconds count in an emergency. By her silence it’s clear, Councillor Doucette does not care about the additional time that our firefighters take to get out of the station. Otherwise she would be asking the hard questions.

    Tony Araujo

  • k c

    This firehall does not need to be open when it overlaps in coverage with other halls. It saves tax payer money. Firefighters respond to thousands of medical emergencies every year but of those thousands there are very few medical emergencies where they actually are able to perform life saving measures (Defibrillation). If there were enough paramedics on the road there wouldn’t be a need for firefighters to respond to MEDICAL emergencies. Notice that its a MEDICAL call those firefighters responded to, not a FIRE. Just as you wouldn’t want a paramedic at a fire to help you, you wouldn’t want a firefighter if there was a complication with your delivery.

    • rhet

      my ol man has worked 424 for over a decade and has delivered (the subject hasn’t come up in a few years) a half dozen(i’m guessing more since) babies in backs of cars, & homes alike. Firefighters recieve specific training for medical emergancies because they are better positoned for first response over and above Ambulance services. AND YES you would want a firefighter their to aid in a complicated delivery, i’d much rather a veteran firefighter with a half dozen deliveries under his belt and numerous & up-to-date delivery training over a rookie EMS who’s never delivered a baby before. Even in the case where a firefighter arrives ahead of prompt EMS dispatch, you still have several trained firefighters to aid, especially with complications, it is not uncommon for EMS to step aside for more qualified veteran firefighters in medical emergancies, this is most common in cases of severe trauma, but also includes births.

      the opposite is also true, you DO want EMS and police to respond to EVERY fire, the police keep the public out of the way, traffic, amature and professional media are all hazards and frequently hinder the response of firefighters to residential and industrial fires a like. Crowd control is extremely important and lets firefighters do their jobs instead of having to turn their backs on the fire, twice i’ve seen CP24 news coverage of falling debris from collapsing buildings land feet from my father. picture the same seen with iphone idiots and the CP24 camera man being pushed away by firefighters.. yeah that doesn’t end good.
      the same goes for effective EMS response at fires, firefighters can either fight the fire or treat victims, when given the scenario of one or the other, they are obliged to treat the victim or do the job of EMS.. firefigters response is people first & property second. a building can be rebuilt but people can’t. if you want the fire actually put out you OF COURSE want the fire put out, even with no victims present, you don’t know that for sure when the call comes in, some kid may be in there so EMS MUST respond, also the EMS is there for the firefighters own safety, whether it’s falling debris, a floor collapsee, burns, smoke inhalation or whatever firefighting is NOT exactly a safe job, again the firefighters can put out the fire, protect the neighbouring buildings, search and save victims or have to attend to their own injured instead.

      for every 911 call it’s almost always the case that both fire and EMS both must be dispatched, even if they turn around halfway there.

      the police are needed just as much, many firehalls/firetrucks have body armor onboard, in cases of arson firefighters have been shot at, heroin addits trying to walk on two broken legs in the middle of the street at 3am do try and stab firefigthers with a pocket knife in one hand and a needle in the other (if you’re wondering those are true stories direct from the sunday dinner table).
      police, fire and ambulance all have to be dispatched to 911 calls.