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Five things we learned from the Post’s “Fire and EMS at war” piece

Not the logo of either department—currently

One of the proposals that’s been put forward to save the city money in these lean fiscal times is combining Toronto’s Fire Services with its Emergency Medical Services. But as anyone who lived through the megacity debates can tell you, amalgamation is never merely a dry bureaucratic reshuffling. There’s emotion involved. The National Post had a great piece this weekend explaining the differences between the units, plus why one OPP officer says they’re “in a war” with Toronto firefighters. What we learned, after the jump.

1) Inflammable? Unflammable? Non-flammable? Whatever. Increasingly, Toronto doesn’t burn
Here’s one of those data points that many people would never notice on their own (and most wouldn’t believe, based on high-profile fires like the one at the former Salad King building), but nevertheless: in 50 years, the number of reported fires in Toronto has dropped from 3,700 in 1960 to 2,239 in 2010. The drop is attributed to better construction and fire prevention.

2) Despite fewer fires, Toronto’s fire department has tripled in size and has a stack of cash
Thanks to things like the megacity and a network of fire stations designed to ensure four-minute response times, the fire department has grown enormously in the last 50 years, despite having fewer fires to put out. The firefighters also have an enormous budget, relative to the EMS workers—who actually have more calls to respond to.

3) OPP: not fans of the fire folk, either
The Post article quotes an officer in the Ontario Provincial Police who’s fed up with Toronto Fire Services responding to car accidents with massive, lumbering pump-trucks that (allegedly!) do more to snarl traffic than actually provide service. (This is where the headline-making quote, “We’re in a war with the fire department,” comes from.)

4) Several times a week, there are zero ambulances free in Toronto
Yikes: while fire and police forces like to keep lots of spare capacity to respond to emergencies, when it comes to ambulances, the city is basically running things on a shoestring. Apparently, they can get snapped up by 9-1-1 calls so quickly that sometimes there are none available. It would be one thing if this only happened during a crisis, but that it’s happening “several times a week,” according to the Post, is alarming.

5) Fire and EMS personnel get personal
When the article gets to how EMS/fire mergers have worked in other places, the discussion gets around to what might be the heart of the problem: after a long history as separate services, there’s enough rivalry and back-biting to make a sequel to Mean Girls. There have been cases where mergers have worked, and to a limited degree there have already been mergers in the way the two work in Toronto, but the nastiness between the services remains.

‘We’re in a war with the fire department’ [National Post]

  • Jake Spped

    Perhaps checking facts yourselves instead of repeating the misinformation from others would serve your readers better.

  • Bob_McGill

    What the article fails to mention as well, of course since it’s trying to be sensational, is that the fire department has not increased in size since amalgamation. Police has increased by 600, EMS by 300.

    The real problem with EMS is not that they don’t have enough personnel, it’s that they are more and more likely to be stuck at the ER room waiting to discharge their patients – hours and hours on end.

    More ambulances would simply lead to a greater bottle-neck at the hospital. You could have 10,000 ambulances on the road, it would still work it’s way down to, yikes, zero since no one would be processed at the hospitals in the first place.

    Again, the real problem here isn’t the fire department (which you still need since fires are more quickly to grow larger and larger thanks to modern building materials) but the funding our health-care system recieves.

    But how sensational is ANOTHER article dealing with our underfunded health-care system? Not really… therefore better to start a war between emergency services than dealing with REAL problems…

  • JJ

    OPP (police) and EMS pers don’t get along with fire? Like everything else the media prints its the minority that scream the most. The vast majority of the services get along very well. Nobody wants to do the other ones job or else they would be working at that service instead.

    Sure fires are down now, but any time you call 911 for an emergency (that you percieve to be an emergency anyways) who they gonna send? The fire dept. EMS is too busy doing medical calls the police are too busy investigating crime or doing paper work so they send fire. The fire department is the jack of all trades that comes when your cat is in a tree, your pipes burst and flood your house, you left you stove on and lock your self out of your house, you lock you baby in your car in 40 degree weather or your house is burning down.

  • Samantha

    I remember when Journalist use to do research and back article up with facts. I have been interested in this debate and decided to actually do some research myself. I have allot of respect for Police officers, Firefighters and Paramedics the provide a important service to our society. I myself could never do what they do I just don’t have that ability to put myself in harms way or deal with some the brutality of humanity. I did some research on fires and yes they are decreasing but I think that attributes to the education programs and fire prevention that the fire department offers. It is also noted in allot of articles that fires are burning hot fast and spreading more quickly than they were 40yrs ago because of the synthetic materials and (light weight building materials). I stop by one of our local fire halls to ask questions and get some “inside” perspective. I think it makes allot of sense now that I heard the information that they respond to life threatening emergencies. The hall I stopped at just got back from a VSA which is when some ones heart stops. They arrived in under four minutes and performed CPR and brought the person back to life. The firefighter told me that they had just finished a program where they tried different types of CPR across Toronto and defibrillator (shock pads). The result was that the survival rate for a heart attract in the city increased by 30%. I really think that it’s a valuable service to have and with them spread all over the city they are faster to get to us if we need them. I think that we really have to put it in to context that they deal with the preservation of life and property and probably because they are all over the city maybe this is why we have fewer fires because they can get they put out before the whole house goes up. I also didn’t know or hear that at the 200 Wellesley fire three firefighter almost died. One was recovered as he took his last breath of air, at the College street fire a whole crew just got out as the main floor caved in, and the Young st fire we also almost lost two. This is in addition to the firefighters who die because of the chemical they are exposed to each year three this past week as I was told….. Just thought I would add some perspective to the debate and show my respect for all the services. Thank you from a taxpayer!

  • Jeff

    I had thought Toronto Life was supposed to be a news outlet that prided itself on responsible journalism. This article is rife with lies, and misguided attempts to antagonize the general public towards a negative attitude for the Toronto Fire Services.

    Pump trucks respond to emergency calls on the highways to act as blocker vehicles. The whole point of a blocker vehicle is to provide a safe working environment for anybody (fire, police, ems, tow truck drivers etc) that are working around the accident vehicles. It is exactly the same as a road crew having the big trucks with the arrows up top funneling traffic away from the crew.

    Pump trucks also have enough water to wash away any bodily fluids from accident scenes. Police and ambulances don’t . They also have absorbent material to soak up fluids from vehicles. Again police and ambulance’s don’t.

    Isn’t responsible journalism supposed to get the facts from more then one source especially with something so vague as one persons feelings and thoughts at a particular point in time? I question if this one OPP officer actually exists or is a lame creation on the part of John Michael McGrath to earn his pay cheque.

    A previous comment was made regarding the wait times of ambulances at hospitals and did a great job of explaining the real reason ambulances of ambulance delays.

    However a further point to consider regarding the multitude of 911 calls is the misuse of 911 in the first place. The point is for emergency and life threatening situations. There are many many calls where people are calling 911 for situations where they could have gone to their doctor, walk in clinic or ER on their own. People DO NOT get seen at the hospital faster if they arrive in an ambulance. They are triaged at time of arrival regardless of mode of arrival.

    1960? Really? Why not compare the city size back to creation? What was the population size in 1960 versus the staffing levels of not just the fire department but police, ambulance, hospitals, newspapers, etc Referencing back to 1960 is shoddy reporting.

    Journalists and the media have to be wary of the power they have. They can influence a population into believing lies and mistruths to the point they almost become fact.

    Now here’s a thought for the media and journalists like McGrath. If your sensationalist and biased articles full of lies and mistruths actually have an impact and result in less fire crews serving the public, resulting in a longer response time then you should be held financially responsible for any damage caused.

  • John

    Finally some educated and informed readers calling writers to task with real details that make sense!! Bravo!

    How about “Thanks to things like the megacity and a network of fire stations designed to ensure four-minute response times, the fire department has grown enormously in the last 50 years”

    That network of fire stations relative to the density and population of Toronto is supposed to supply a four minute response time which is necessary for medical and fire emergencies. Added seconds and minutes beyond that time risk further injury to people resulting in death and the growth of fire that doubles each minute it is left to burn.

    Currently the average response time in Toronto for Fire is 4:52. That’s below an acceptable rate for ratings that dictate many things…..including insurance rates for the city mostly. The worst we rate, the more the city pays and ultimately the taxpayers.

    As for ‘growth’ of the fire service, yes, amalgamating 5 different fire departments into one is going to make it grow in number of personnel but you now have 5 times the area to serve and it’s also growing. Since amalgamation in 2005, TFS has not grown in personnel, in fact it’s dropped by 3 people. Firefighters retire…..and they die on the job. These staffing rates need to be filled and retained to provide the level of service to the citizens of Toronto to keep them safe and alive.
    The current number of firefighters has NOT grown, it’s stayed flat yet the population grows, the density thickens and the response times slow down…..and they’re expected to trim 10% or 300 firefighters to stop the ‘Gravy Train’ Mayor Ford says is sucking the city dry?

  • Christine

    As a healthcare professional at an acute care Toronto hospital, I have been both shocked and dismayed by the recent articles assaulting our city’s firefighters. Mayor Rob Ford has asked ALL city departments to look for savings and for some reason this has begun a media attack on Toronto Fire Services, with reporters spouting off inacurate “facts”…and for what purpose? I imagine to create a “hate-on” by the public. I have friends in EMS, police and fire services and from my perspective, there is a mutual respect for one another and the unique skills they can offer in various emergency situations. The unprofessional statements made by a few should not be perceived as the norm.
    Comment#1: EMS is stretched across the city. While this may be accurate, it is primarily due to EMS staff being tied up in emergency rooms, sometimes for hours at a time until a patient is formally taken on by the hospital. Until ER wait times are reduced, this issue will not be resolved and you have EMS personnel sitting around at hospitals – is this not also a waste of taxpayer money?
    Comment#2: Fire trucks “show up” at emergency scenes when they are not needed. This insinuates that fire crews are driving around looking for calls to attend to. Like all emergency personnel (ie.police, EMS) it is a well known fact that fire services are sent to calls via a dispatcher -the dispatcher receives information of an emergency and calls in what they feel are the necessary resources to effectively deal with the situation. Fire services (or any other emergency service for that matter)do not have the authority to pick and choose which calls they attend to. I’m sure there have been situations where roles are reversed & EMS/police are standing around at a scene because the emergency at hand is something specific to the skill set of firefighters.
    Comment#3: Fire Services has tripled in size since the mid-60′s. Give me a break…I’m sure if you took the time to look at the staffing of police and EMS you would also find a significant increase – because the city has grown! What the journalists fail to mention is that since amalgamation, fire services has actually LOST a few positions (the “new” positions media speak of are actually ones being filled due to retirement or death!). Meanwhile, police and EMS have added hundreds of NEW positions – I’m not saying these positions were not needed…just making a point that this fact was conveniently omitted by journalists.
    Comment#4: Firefighters have it easy & spend most of their time sitting around playing frisbee. This is such a narrow-minded comment & is right up there with cops sit at coffee shops and eat donuts all day! Unless you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, you have no idea what the profession entails and comments such as these are simply derogatory and not at all constructive.
    Bottom line: All 3 services are equally essential to our city’s safety and well-being, and therefore should be equally respected – it takes a certain type of person to be able to do what they do. But yes, these are tough economic times, and efficiencies need to be made without compromising the safety of Toronto citizens. Instead of all of the finger-pointing taking place in the media by some questionable journalists, can we not let the essential services work on their respective plans in peace like every other department is doing at the City of Toronto?

  • jason jason

    As a Paramedic with more than 10 yrs experience I can tell you with certainty that the above comments made by Christine are inaccurate. Toronto Fire personnel spend aproximately 85 – 90% of their time in the hall at the BBQ, work-out room, or TV room. Why do Police and EMS not work 24hr shifts like Fire? Because we’re too damn busy! It would be nigh impossible for EMS or Police to work a consecutive 24hrs. Must be nice to have a 24hr shift cycle (with 5hrs guaranteed down time on the taxpayers $).
    To me this basically proves the point that Fire is not that busy a service compared to EMS and Police.
    Forget the amalgamation, just straighten out the funding disparity!

  • Davis

    Jason -

    Please send a link to the statistics you mentioned regarding how firefighters spend their time.

    Also, please explain to us how extra funding to EMS is going to resolve the main problem of ER wait times in the first place. You seemed to have happily attacked the fire-service while providing absolutely no reasoning whatsoever as to why we should be writing a blank cheque to EMS.

    Thank you

  • Richard Samson


    You cry and cry about how funding should be even. What costs more money/resources? Driving someone with a cut finger to the hospital, or putting out a house or apartment fire?

    That’s what I thought.

  • Steve

    Since our Paramedics are tied up in the ER for long wait times….I appreciate the Fire Department backing up that service by responding to a medical call when I am in need of assistance. As far as them not being trained to the same medical level; they provided me with Oxygen, checked my pulse and blood pressure and provided the comfort I needed until an ambulance appeared 20 minutes later. I will state this…Once the paramedics showed up, the scene changed dramatically. A report from the lead firefighter (also trained as a paramedic as I learned) was dismissed by the arriving paramedic and I did not appreciate the talking down I recieved by the Paramedic. I almost felt that I was waisting their time. A huge lack of professionalism is seen with the articles against the Fire Department in a variety of newpapers lately, all steming from obviously disgruntled paramedics. Personally I would like to thank the Fire Dept for their service and the level of care they provided.

  • Thinking

    CFRB 1010 Talk Radio hosted for a discussion on the amalgamation of Toronto Fire Services and Toronto EMS. The guest were Mark Ferguson, President of CUPE local 416 and Frank Ramagnano of the Toronto Professional Firefighters Association. Each guest was given equal time to state their thoughts, and presumably the thoughts of their respective unions, on if the two services should be merged. Following the discussion phone calls from “the public” were aired.

    While listening to the show, I noticed a common theme. Mark Ferguson seemed more concerned on who should respond to calls, where the stance of the Firefighters Union stressed getting someone on scene as soon as possible during a medical emergency. This was rather disturbing to hear that Mark Ferguson coming up with more reasons why the Fire Service should not respond to calls, instead of offering any suggestions on how to improve response times. If any taxpayer thinks that you can make a government service more efficient by throwing more money at it, then I want to talk to you about a bridge I have for sale.

    There are a few things that I would like to see clarified. It was stated that “million dollar fire trucks” were responding to calls. I want to know the exact cost of a pumper, along with the lifespan of the vehicle. I also want to know the cost of an ambulance and its lifespan. If you are going to go public with these statements, you better be able to back them up.

    Mark Ferguson stated that Firefighters were only helpful in 1% of all medical calls. How were those statistics obtained? Were the patients and their families part of this study? Who conducted this study? Where can I find this information published? My first thought is, if Toronto Fire Services responds to medical calls at the request of Toronto EMS, are you then stating that 99% of calls medical calls were misdiagnosed by the civilian (non-paramedic) call takers and dispatchers? Should call takers be paramedics to provide experienced triage? How long does it take for the Fire Service to be notified to respond to a call?

    During the program, it was mentioned that paramedics provide advanced airway management, start IV’s, provide drug therapy, all things that Firefighters can’t do. Are these skills that EVERY paramedic can provide, or just Advanced Care Paramedics, know as level 3′s in Toronto. According to Toronto EMS there are:
    Level I – (Primary Care Paramedic)- 463 positions.
    Level II – (Enhanced Primary Care Paramedic)- 217 positions
    Level III – (Advanced Care Paramedic)- 184 positions.
    CCTU – (Critical Care Transport Paramedic)- 17 positions

    Looking at these numbers, its becomes obvious that not every call is going to get an advanced paramedic, and majority of the calls will have Level 1 paramedics attend. I’m not debating on who is better trained. Obviously even a Primary Care Paramedic (level 1) is much better schooled in paramedicine than a firefighter, but if a family member is laying on the floor, possibly not breathing, do you want to wait 10, 15, even 30 minutes for a highly trained paramedic unit to arrive on scene, or 5 minutes for less medically trained Firefighters?

    Don’t let statistics fool you. Think about this. Let’s say the Fire Service’s medical calls make up 60% of their call volume and fires 10%. We need less fire trucks rights? Now if each medical call lasts 15 minutes (remember, according to Mark Ferguson, Fire Services were really only needed in 1% of the medical calls, so they don’t need to be there long) and there are 10 medical calls, that would be using 1 fire vehicle for 150 minutes. The recent Wellesley Street, or Yonge, or Queen Street Fires, think that tied up 1 Fire vehicle for 150 minutes? On the basis (not in fact, just an approximation) there were 20 vehicles at one of these fire scenes for 4 hours (4 x 60 minutes x 20 fire trucks) = 4800 minutes. 10 medical calls – 150 minutes 1 fire call – 4800 minutes. It is impossible to reach a concise conclusion without a full statistical analysis, but one can see now that the number of calls versus the time and resources spent at calls may give up results not considered.

    As taxpayers, if we are going to get involved in this situation, we need to educate ourselves. Research, think, ask questions, seek the truth before you give your comments. The computer you use to give your opinion, use it to research the topic and become informed first. This isn’t a fight to see who is better, this should be about giving the best service to the citizens of Toronto during what could be one of the worst times of their life.

  • BG

    Commenting on Jason “the experienced paramedic”

    you stated :As a Paramedic with more than 10 yrs experience I can tell you with certainty that the above comments made by Christine are inaccurate. Toronto Fire personnel spend aproximately 85 – 90% of their time in the hall at the BBQ, work-out room, or TV room. Why do Police and EMS not work 24hr shifts like Fire? Because we’re too damn busy!

    If you are “too damn busy”, where did you find the time to watch what the firefighters were doing for 90% of the time during their 24 hour shift? Especially since your shift is only 12 hours long. Did you sit around on your own time for 12 hours to observe them? I’m hoping that if I never need an ambulance, you are not working that day.

  • Paul

    As a paramedic as well, I am ashamed, of the comments of Jason. The problem is the off load delay experienced every day in ER.

    For comparison only 4% of EMS total calls are considered an emergency back to the hospital (lights and sirens). With that in mind do we really need level 3 paramedics, especially in an urban setting like Toronto where Hospitals are relatively close.
    Unfortunatley, the medic mentality is to try an knock another service down, with the hope they will get the benefit.

    For Jason I just worked a 12 hr EMS shift and had 2 naps today.

  • Bill H.

    People like Jason and Ferguson are great examples of the lies being spread by a few disgruntled people on the EMS side of things. EMS management needs to grow up and put an end to their games and someone has to see that the citizens of Toronto are more important than Ferguson trying to keep the paramedics as pawns in CUPE 416.

    The paramedics would be better off working under TFS management and the citizens would be getting a better service. No need for the extra gravy in EMS management and sorry Ferguson – you can’t keep holding the city hostage by using paramedics and garbage collection as a knife to our necks.

    I can’t believe how much misinformation is being passed out by the EMS union…in the end, it can only hurt the citizens of Toronto.

  • Dave

    If Mark Ferguson & CUPE is so concerned about EMS paramdeic numbers & the safety of Toronto’s citizens. Then explain why CUPE will not allow Toronto Paramedics to be an essential service in Toronto? Instead they use EMS as bargaining wedge during CUPE’s contract negotiations? And how can they argue they are so short staffed when they go down to 75% staffing during a strike (putting the city at risk) remember 40 Alexander St? Either we need 100% staffing all the time or mabye there is a bit of fat to trim off EMS as well.

    The off-loading times at ER’s is the key issue here. Too many times I have been in an ER waiting room (for hours) and watched 4-5 paramedic crews (that’s 10 Paramedics!!)sit around chatting and reading books. While on the front line EMS responses are being increased.

    I think Mr Fergison & the Toronto Paramadeic association should learn how to pick their fights better. Attacking their allies (ie Fire) with innacurate facts and fear mongering is a poor way to advocate their cause.


  • Jasminder

    Dave -Mark Ferguson would very much like EMs to be an essential service instead of the pawn EMS is used as for CUPE outside workers. EMS wanted to have their own bargaining unit but was disallowed. EMS are small fish in a big pond of city workers. They did not choose to go on strike and it is not their choice to work at 75% staffing. EMS works a lot of forced overtime and do not get their meal breaks most of the time at %100 staffing do you really think they WANT to work at %75? The paramedics you see sitting in the waiting room are there because they have a patient to look after until they are admitted to the ER. And FD has shown themselves to NOT be allies of EMS.

  • todd

    As a full time fire fighter working also as a part-time on my days off, I am in a great position to comment on the issue. Honestly speaking, at the end of my 12 hour shift working EMS, I am exhausted and want to go home. I can’t say that I feel the same when working Fire. I understand that job preservation is really at the center of this debate. I never got into the Fire services to do medical calls but it is now becoming an unfortunate reality of the job. Truthfully speaking, the number of fires we respond to are down. Responding to medical calls makes up the bulk of our day.

  • MDF

    Those 5 pts. you supposedly learned ? You did not learn em’ real good . Talk about biased journalism. I used to read Toronto Life as a kid living with my parents. Not now thks…. On a related note… Last week I was in my doctor’s office reading about some sodomite native Canadian’s ‘ artwork’ in your periodical . ( along with two other pro-homosexual pieces ) No thank-you.

  • Dylan

    An absurdly inaccurate and poorly written article.

  • Adam

    In my opinion…Ems forgot who they work for and the service they are here to provide. Toronto fire shows professionalism in everything they so, and have not forgotten they are here to provide a service to the citizens of Toronto. We are comparing two different jobs? And why has no body raised the issue or asked where paramedics are for all the other calls aside from medical that fire receives? Again, paramedics only see one side of what firefighters do. It is truly unfortunate, EMS can use their energy better serving the people…that what’s it all about isn’t it? Ems are there own worst enemy, not fire not police not nobody. All that comes from this “one sided war” is the suffering of the citizens of Toronto, and for the most part the public is oblivious to the damage this is causing to the service THEY pay for…EMS do not have the respect amongst them selves the way fire has, and its actually Ems management soaking up the money and hurting their own. Toronto fire has a much smaller management then Ems for a dept. far greater? Example… For every 100 union member Toronto fire has 1 management position. For every 13 union member Ems has 1 management position. Talk about gravy? There it is… I think it’s time to really think why this has been a one sided war, and what the truth is behind Ems disgruntled attitude. Stop looking outside your own, and fix the problem that only you are to blame for… Give the citizens of Toronto the service they deserve!! hopefully they can figure out their own issues and move forward from all this…cause if not, the only people suffering in your little war with Toronto fire isn’t the firefighters. It’s the citizens of Toronto…

  • Westerlies

    It sounds like the fire dept. should be sent to the ER to babysit patients delivered by EMS. What a ridiculous system!

  • Westerlies

    Why not determine which patients can wait without EMS babysitters and leave one paramedic with all of the non-urgents?

  • Westerlies

    Only 4% of EMS runs are considered emergencies. Why can’t these folks wait in the ER themselves? Or with one staff person from the hopsital or EMS for all of them? That way 96% of EMS are on the road all the time. No shortages. In fact, significant surpluses.