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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]