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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.

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