Editor’s note: Former Toronto Fire Services Chief William Stewart responds to an article at InsideToronto.com and posted at www.firefightingincanada.com on Friday about the City of Toronto’s proposed 2013 budget.
Dec. 3, 2012, Toronto - The proposed City of Toronto budget for 2013 identifies 104 vacant firefighter positions to be deleted if approved by city council in January. The budget document posted by the city shows 91 vacant operations positions to be deleted, along with support-division positions.
Articles posted in the media have stated that there will not be an impact to public safety, as stated by the city manager. The Toronto Professional Fire Fighters Association has said there will be an impact to public safety and increased response times, as five trucks will be removed from service.
The reality is that response times will increase and move further away from the NFPA 1710 standard, placing residents and firefighters at potential risk.
On reading the EMS budget analyst notes, management is stating that it will not meet the 90th percentile standard based on eight minutes and 59 seconds. In all probability, management hopes to achieve a response time at 60 per cent of the standard. The projected response time was not stated in budget analyst notes.
Clearly, public safety is not being considered by the city manager and the acting CFO. Their only concern is to put forward a balanced budget to ensure residential property tax increases are held to a minimum.
As stated in my November column in Fire Fighting in Canada, the bureaucrats and politicians will ignore the facts and gamble that nothing will occur from one budget year to the next. When there is a major incident and there are injuries or the regrettable loss of life, questions will be asked, potentially placing the emergency services in the face of litigation.
Upon review of the media stories and budget analyst notes, there are outstanding reports to come forward after the 2013 budget cycle is completed. A Fire Underwriters Study commenced in April 2012 and was to be completed by the fall; I note that the report is outstanding as Toronto is currently rated as a three in the FUS rating scale based on risk assessment. Should the risk increase to the city, the fire department rating could increase to a four, which would impact both commercial and residential insurance rates. I requested that the study be undertaken in October 2011 for the 2012 budget process; the study was delayed by the deputy city manager. The current EMS and fire review commenced in April 2012 by Pomax Inc. has also been delayed and is slated for release in February, focusing on potential savings from duplication of services.
Should the proposed reductions occur, it will be a sad day for TFS and the citizens of Toronto. Detailed questions must be asked based on the outcomes of the reports that are not being made available for review and discussion at city council for the 2013 budget process. The onus will fall on council should the city be impacted by a major incident, and if sufficient staffing is not available to respond to and mitigate emergency incidents.
Retired Chief William Stewart, FIFireE, CFO, CMM, has more than 39 years of fire-service experience, having served in the former City of North York Fire Department for 26 years prior to the amalgamation of the new City of Toronto on Jan. 1, 1998. E-mail him at
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