Toronto Fire Services may face budget axe
Written by Peter Sells
June 1, 2011, Toronto – The word is out that Toronto Fire Services (TFS) is facing the prospect of unprecedented staffing reductions in order to achieve budget targets as the city faces a $774-million shortfall for 2012.
“All city divisions, agencies, boards and commissions have been requested to identify a 10 per cent reduction for the 2012 operating budget submission. TFS is facing a potential $37-million reduction at this time,” TFS Chief Bill Stewart confirmed Wednesday morning.
“TFS has prepared the impact statements associated with the request with respect to response time increases, firefighter and public safety and increased potential for fire loss.”
Stewart notes that not included in the $37 million is the impact of wage increases that have not been negotiated or awarded for 2010 to present date.
The days are long gone when a fire chief could storm into council and bluster, “If you don’t give me the money to run this department properly, babies are going to die in their cribs!” Councillors these days are too sophisticated and too well informed about fire-service operations to succumb to the dead-baby speech. Nowadays, they would be more likely to sharpen a pencil, scrutinize a spreadsheet and ask “Chief, exactly how many babies are we talking about here?”
I remember my first few years on the job, when I got two raises a year. One would occur when I reached an increment and moved from probationary to fourth class, third class, etc. These were each equivalent to 10 per cent of first-class firefighter pay, which was a little less than 40 grand at that time. The second raise would come when the negotiated increases in the multi-year collective agreement kicked in. These were no slouch either, as much as 5.5 per cent or six per cent in the 1980s. Considering that my time in between university and the fire service had been spent variously as a security officer, encyclopedia sales rep and McDonalds manager trainee, that kind of money was almost beyond belief.
Well, it was real but it was not sustainable. The boom of the ’80s gave way to more austere times. Several budget cycles in the ’90s brought down directives to cut operating budgets by 10 per cent or even 15 per cent, especially during the reorganization of the City of Toronto in 1994-95 and the subsequent municipal amalgamation in 1998 – not to mention Rae Days (any of my Ontario colleagues remember those?).
It seems that we have gone through another cycle of boom and bust in the last decade. In 2004, the Toronto Police Services Board awarded a contract that contained the then-controversial retention-pay provisions with progressive bonuses of three per cent, six per cent and nine per cent at eight, 17 and 23 years respectively. At the time, the board naively assumed that it had not set any precedent, but the same provisions cascaded across police and fire contracts in subsequent years. Add in consistent contract raises of close to three per cent annually over the last decade, and now we are faced with new calls for restraint and even reduction. It has been reported over the last week that Toronto police may be asked to reduce its uniformed and civilian staff by 10 per cent, specifically 500 uniforms and 300 suits. So now it seems that Toronto fire is under similar pressure for a double-digit budget decrease. Reality bites, but it is still reality. You can’t cut an operating budget that is in excess of 90 per cent salary and benefits by 10 per cent or more without reducing staff.
Of course, budget reduction and efficient city governance is exactly what Toronto Mayor Rob Ford campaigned on, and that’s what won him the election last fall. This leads to a puzzling juxtaposition of tactics; less than a month ago, Toronto police were awarded salary increases totalling 11.5 per cent over the next four years, making them the highest paid cops in Canada. The Ford giveth and the Ford taketh away? What’s with the sideshow shell game? If fair is fair, then can Toronto firefighters expect a similar contract if they are also asked to decimate their ranks?
Cuts on this order to Canada’s largest municipal fire service are equivalent to the removal of approximately 20 apparatuses from the fleet and 400 firefighters (TFS has about 128 apparatuses and more than 3,000 firefighters). In absolute terms, this seems staggering, given that the majority of Canadian fire departments don’t come close to 20 apparatuses or 400 firefighters. In relative terms, 10 to 12 per cent is 10 to 12 per cent. Can this actually be done to a fire department – of any size – without adversely affecting public safety? Will the bean counters be satisfied with attrition of perhaps three per cent a year for a few years, or will the mandate be for immediate reductions (read that as layoffs, maybe of the last three years of rookie classes).
Those are some tough choices for a fire chief to make, and I envy nobody faced with such tasks. With a majority conservative federal government in power for the next few years, will reduced provincial transfer payments result in reduced funds for municipalities and further provincial downloading of services? All of this costs money and there is only one pile per region, city or town. It might not be a bad idea for all fire chiefs across Canada to start looking now at contingency plans for when the axe man cometh.
I will close with a personal reflection for Mayor Ford and his team: I have known Chief Bill Stewart for 15 years, and he is just about the last guy I would want to stare down across a poker table.
Written by Steve on 2011-07-20 07:03:00
I Agree with other comments - stop sending fire trucks to EMS calls. It's much cheaper to properly staff an ambulance with 2 medics than to keep sending 4 firefighters on a truck that costs 3 - 5 times as much (or more) than an ambulance.
Written by Bill Sullivan on 2011-06-20 07:58:30
Cut backs in emergency services are a direct result of politicians pandering to the voters purse strings in order to be re-elected. Toronto politicians are quite adept at using the term "world class" when referring to the city. World class cities are expensive operations and they require leadership that is willing to pay for the title. By the way any member of an emergency service who bad mouths another service is an idiot.
Written by Guest on 2011-06-09 22:48:27
Fire trucks and stations are staffed and situated to provide adequate response times for Fire calls , these times are set by insurance underwriters and everybody\'s insurance rates are set by how closely a municipality follows these guidelines .If Toronto Fire never went to another medical call again , there would still be the same number of fire trucks required or everyone would pay higher insurance rates .
That is the simple economics , the reality is that delayed fire response would inevitably lead to loss of life and property . Sadly ,these losses would not be realised until after a coroners investigation .
Medical response from Toronto fire is a tiered response , it is based on the reasoning that fire calls are rare and when a true medical emergency exists , there is a greater chance of saving a life with rapid intervention ,so send everyone and someone will get there quick . If EMS arrives first its ideal but if Fire arrives first they can help in extreme cases and coverage for fire purposes should only be lost for minutes , until EMS arrives and lets Fire go .
Cutbacks to either service will impact both , the politicians will look good in the voters eyes but somewhere some day the same voters will will pay in the worst way .
Written by Guest on 2011-06-09 18:22:47
So the city is short on money and is thinking of making cuts to essential services like Fire and Police. Yet one of the first orders of business for our illustrious new mayor was to abolish the vehicle registration tax, which was apparently too much money ($60) to ask of people that can afford to drive a car. Unreal.
Written by Guest on 2011-06-08 12:46:35
Althought the fire service is ran by the municipality, we have to also understand that there are other players involved that make provincial decisions for the fire service. This might be the right time that politicians discuss with the other provincial players. Cut backs are a tough thing to digest, but it sems like the new norm now of days. EMS is under the same gun as well, but not sure how they became the talk from the original question. Keep focused to the question.
Written by Guest on 2011-06-07 15:49:37
I have been on modify duties a few times. I was doing NOTHING for weeks. I was also talking and doing nothing with members/captains of different department such as recruitment, info, training, emergency planning, stores etc... Maybe the cut back should be in the offices where people work out for an hour as they are on duty or spend time doing... not much...
Also the CNE ''new station'', why did Toronto fire buy and will renovate it if we need to save money??? I think the debate should be more about saving in the right places instead of the old medic/firefighter battle...
For the police problem; what about a cut back on those police officers being paid huge amount of money to just stand at a corner all day, as construction is going on. Good signalisation is enough to keep the construction workers safe...
|Written by Peter Sells on 2011-06-06 14:40:38|
Thank you RescuePro! You have hit the nail squarely on the head. Those who don\'t understand Alameda probably don\'t remember Port Colborne. As I said in a previous post, none of this is as straightforward as cutting a little here and there - every dollar has consequences. Essentially the same thing happened two weeks ago in Iqaluit, where the Fire Department is not trained or authorized to safely perform sea ice rescue. One snowmobiler died and another is in critical condition following a collision on the sea ice less than a kilometre outside the city. Pointing fingers is worse than pointless. Decide what services and service levels you will and will not fund and accept the consequences.
Written by RescuePro on 2011-06-06 14:19:17
Here\'s a real world example of fire service budget cuts.
One week ago in Alameda, CA, a 52-year-old man walked fully clothed into San Fransisco bay up to his neck and ended up floating face down an hour later.
Alameda FD Fire Chief Mike D\'Orazi stated department policy precludes his Firefighters from attempting water rescues because they aren\'t trained to do water rescues. They aren\'t trained because funding for firefighter water-rescue training was CUT from the Alameda budget in 2009, training funding that would have probably helped.
The cold, hard reality is this man went into the water and the FD was unable to get him out-for relatively valid reasons: the training budget was cut and they no longer provide water rescue services. They weren\'t going to risk sending untrained firefighters to do water rescues.
So, if the political will exists for TFS budget cuts, it is imperative the citizens of Toronto be made aware this will impact them on the worst day of their lives. When they, or a loved one, require the Fire Service to be capable of continuing to provide a rescue capability they have grown to expect, and the Fire Service says no, our budget cannot support the delivery of that service, they must be prepared to confront their city councillor and demand answers.
For the sake of public safety, and the good people of Toronto, let us pray the scenario above never plays out in our city.
As the example illustrates, cuts to the Fire Service directly impact the taxpayer.
Written by Peter Sells on 2011-06-06 09:25:39
Some good points by that last Guest, and I am going to follow up on the response time comments if I can validate them. As for additional medics - great! Who could argue with more of a good thing? But it would be at additional cost, not a fraction of the cost of a staffed fire apparatus. Remember that the primary mission of a fire service is fire protection, and the capital and operating costs of that mission are what is being discussed at the budget table. More medics, fewer medics or even removing fire from all tiered EMS response would not negate the need for any single fire truck and crew.
So if I can say this politely to my EMS friends, your perspective is valued but this issue is not about you.
Written by Guest on 2011-06-04 17:33:09
So Toronto Police signed a 4 year contract that works out to 2.875% a year. The Canadian rate of inflation in April 2011 was 3.3% with the average rate of inflation in Canada for the period from 1910 until 2010 being 3.26%. And you think that's a good raise???
|Written by Guest on 2011-06-04 07:44:45|
Perhaps they should simply train fire-fighters (at least one per rig) to Paramedic level. This way on top of doing the multitude of duties that a firefighter does, they can provide the paramedic-level emergency care. An ambulance could then only require one paramedic to transport the patient to the hospital. This way we could simply cut 40% from EMS - many of the calls they go aren't life-threatening any way.
Written by Gord on 2011-06-03 20:14:34
I've been a Toronto FF for 21 years. Prior to that I lived in Vancouver, where the Fire Service responded to Medical calls a long time before Toronto did. They still do so today. Running EMS calls is a very important service provided by FF's, but if Toronto Council puts a stop to it, then the Ontario Ministry of Health better get their asses in gear and start providing the funding that should've been provided a long time ago. I fully agree that more Ambulances and Medics are required for this City, but until Ontario coughs up the money, it ain't gonna happen! Also, Medical calls in Toronto would drop substantially if we educated the public on when 911 should be called. If they stopped calling for coughs, stubbed toes, sore backs, sore knees and hips,"Oh, I just don't feel well", or "Oh, I just need a ride to the Hospital" coz I'm too damned cheap to pay for a Cab LOL etc..., there would be enough Medics on the road. And cleaning up the off-load delay problem in the Hospital ER's would help substantially too.
Mayor Ford, you do what you gotta do. If you're gonna cut Police and Fire, don't forget about the Medics too. Remember, they still aren't considered an Essential Service! And TTC Bus drivers are LOL What a joke!!!
Written by Guest on 2011-06-03 18:09:30
Is this really turning into an EMS/Fire debate??? I disagree with the logic and facts in the last comment. The 24 hour shift has no bearing on response times, firefighters worked night shifts before the 24 shift was implemented and work nights now with this shift. There is no difference. As far as response times, I do now this. Fire trucks routinely beat the ambulances to medical calls (over 50% from my experience). Sometimes it's because simply the firehall hall is closer, sometimes off load delay at the hospital backs things up and the ambulance is coming from far away, and OFTEN it's because the paramedics take their sweet time getting in the ambulance and drive without lights and sirends to the call. FYI, there are MANY firefighters on the trucks that were fully trained paramedics and nurses before joining the department. They are hardly minimally trained.
Written by Guest on 2011-06-03 09:54:04
If true facts were known, they would state that in fact Toronto EMS does arrive on scene quicker to emergency calls quicker than does the fire department. Especially at nights. Since Toronto Fire has gone to the 24 hour shift, the response times are much slower. As stated earlier by one blogger, you would want emergency care arriving quickly, if the ambulance was delayed in getting to the scene. So instead of sending 4 minimally trained advanced first aiders, why not hire 4 more Advanced care paramedics to these calls as first responders with ALL of the training and equipment that an ambulance has to save lives, at a fraction of the cost.
Written by Peter Sells on 2011-06-03 08:33:42
Great to get some comments! I can't address everything that has been said, but let me cover a few misconceptions. TFS, like all Ontario fire services and unlike municipal ambulance services, does not receive any external funding for EMS calls. The training and equipment is paid for within the operating budget, so there would be no funds to 'turn back' to the medics. Next, fires or no fires, the spacing and response times for fire services are a critical element in the insurance rating of the community served. Fewer stations, fewer firefighters or an older fleet could result in a decrease in the rating. This would drive everyone's premiums up, potentially costing the community jobs and tax revenue if businesses decide to relocate. The point is; nothing about this issue is as simple as cut this or cut that. Every decision has serious and complex repercussions.
|Written by Guest on 2011-06-02 19:04:05|
The hard reality is that fire has done a great job at changing building codes etc, and making the city less prone to burning. The down side is that there are not as many real fires anymore either !! The only reason we have fire dept go to medical calls is for stats and was allowed to happen thanks to stupid politicians. The reality is fire does very little on medical calls and no more than police could do 90 % of the time. If the fire dept truly cared about the publics medical well being like they like to state, then they would offer to redirect their medical funding back to the paramedics who are the ones that truly make a difference on medical calls. All ambulances have fire extinguishers but that doesn\'t make them fire experts, you wouldn\'t take money from fire and give it to paramedic services to help out on fire calls, you would want more firefighters. So why does the IAFF think it makes sense to send fire to medical and not address the issue which is there needs to be more ambulances on the road !!!
Written by Guest on 2011-06-02 18:49:11
Best way to save some money is through attrition and hiring freezes.
BUT, if you really have to slash some positions then start with the Toronto Island station (make it a vollie station like it should be). Follow by getting rid of the Highrise truck. Contract out the Quartermaster (seriuously -$80,000 a year to fold and hand out t-shirts????). That's close to 5 million saved right there by implementing those ideas. If you wanna get real aggresive simply discontinue all 64 of the Chief's Drivers positions and make the DC's drive themselve's like they do in alot of other cities. That's another 5+ million saved.
Written by Daniel on 2011-06-02 08:43:42
People need to remember that when Toronto Fire responds for a medical emergency, it is mostly for what are considered high risk calls like Heart attacks, trouble breathing, unconsciousness, seizures and more. It\\\'s too simplistic to say reduce those runs when fire fighters are in a lot of cases first on the scene. Imagine for a minute not being able to breathe... how do you feel? What if that EMS run you want fire to NOT run, is your wife, child, husband having a serious medical emergency where seconds count and a fire truck is just a few short minutes away? Would you still want to them to sit in the fire hall even though they can open an airway, provide oxygen, administer CPR, defibrillation, control a bleed etc. Cutting EMS runs is too simplistic a response, this is not going to be solved by creating barriers between services. One aspect people need to remember is that politicians have not raised taxes significantly in Toronto in years. You can\\\'t expect to live in a city like this and want top tier services, but not have to pay for them.
Written by Guest on 2011-06-01 20:43:00
Rather than cut integration services, maybe it is better to reward them.
Innovative savings that result in better overall community safety and emergency support should get bonus points, rather than be considered for cuts.
Resourcing is an expense that could possibly be more effectively used if community safety is seen as a common service function of fire, police, ambulance, medical and other emergency services.
Let's look for innovative, creative use of resources that provide better services. For example, rather than hire more police, can we have other safety services such as fire department provide more safety and crime awareness training at schools, etc. to allow police to focus on crime.
Let's get innovative and involve community groups more in community safety as well.
Another area, can fire departments become safe havens for communities when women and children are in trouble on night shifts.
We need our file and police forces, we just need their unions to think of new ways to be more effective with resources paid for with limited tax ayer $$$$
Written by Teddy on 2011-06-01 15:23:15
I am wondering if maybe Toronto Fire would or could save money by elimating the EMS runs that they do as it seems most of the calls they do are medical related and not fire related
Written by Stephen on 2011-06-01 15:20:33
Maybe if Toronto wants to cut back on staff & services they should cut back on the Fire Apparatus such as Aerial Trucks going on Medical calls and let EMS handle them without Toronto Fire help.