West-end community pushes to save fire hall
About 2 dozen residents in the neighbourhood that borders the west side of High Park gathered in a meeting room at Swansea Town Hall on Sunday afternoon to put the heat on top officials from Toronto Fire.
Parkdale-High Park city councillor Sarah Doucette called the two-hour emergency public meeting after learning late this week that Toronto Fire Station 424, at 426 Runnymede Road, stands to be a victim of City Hall's decree that all departments must adhere to a budget freeze for 2013.
In addition to closing Station 424, Toronto Fire plans for a total of 4 fire trucks to be decommissioned at 4 fire halls across the city, also in the name of cutting costs.
Toronto Fire Chief Jim Sales was at Sunday's meeting to address concerns from the community.
He says choosing to close the station, built in 1929, was not an easy one to make and says it was the least harmful of any of the cost-cutting options that were on the table.
"When it comes to Runnymede (Fire Station), it has the shortest response times of any station in the city, its also got a low call volume and other stations are within 2 kilometres away so it has the easiest ability to cover for other stations," Sales explains.
The Chief adds that while closing the fire hall will have an impact on fire service, he insists that it will not be significant enough to put Toronto residents at risk.
Local resident Bill Roberts appreciates the fire department has been put in a tough spot but he is not convinced by Sales' assurances.
"When you consider south Swansea, you've got all these high-rise condominiums and there are several thousand more people here than there were 5 years ago," he says.
"It doesn't make sense to take away one of the fire trucks that has to support the increasing population."
When asked who he will blame if the fire hall is closed, Roberts says the buck ultimately stops with Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
Veronica Wynne has lived in the area for 30 years and is hopeful that the city can reach a compromise, saying that the stakes are 'life and death.'
"The Toronto that I live in, traditionally, life and death has trumped money so I'm sure that there can be efficiencies in operations found elsewhere."
Damien Walsh, VP of the Toronto Professional Firefighters Association, says closing the station could put lives at risk.
"It's going to mean longer response times and its going to mean higher call volumes so its an increasing workload on the people working in those stations," says Walsh.
He feels that a proper analysis of the risks association with those longer response times still needs to be done so that city council make an informed decision when its time to build the final budget.
Volunteers at Sunday's meeting collected signatures on a petition that urges City Hall to find the extra $2 million to keep the station open.
City council will make a final decision on whether to take the Runnymede fire station offline in mid-January, during final budget deliberations.
If the hall is closed, no firefighting jobs will be lost. Those employees will be transferred to other facilities.
The building itself will be offered up to be taken over by another Toronto city service department.
If there are no takers, the building will likely be sold off.