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Firefighters ad looks to rescue trucks, staff from being cut in city budget

Watch the video above: Firefighters ad looks to rescue trucks, staff from being cut in city budget. Jackson Proskow reports. 

TORONTO – Every second counts when responding to a fire, according to an ad from the Toronto Firefighters Association that warns of a ghastly scenario should the city’s proposed budget be passed by city councillors.

The 16-second ad features a sombre firefighter holding a charred stuffed animal blanketed by smoke with the sound of a crying baby in the background.

“In a fire, seconds count,” a woman’s voice reads over the grim scene. “City council’s plan to cut millions from fire services will put lives at risk. With the stakes so high, we can’t afford the risk.”

The proposed budget will cut four trucks from service and cut 84 firefighters. Analysis done by the Toronto Fire Services suggests removing these trucks from service will have a “minimal” effect on response times.

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But Damien Walsh, the Vice-President of the Toronto Professional Firefighters’ Association said that while he has no firm number, he believes response times will increase.

Watch the video below: Toronto Firefighters ‘every second counts’ campaign ad 

“Last year the city’s own numbers showed that it would be a 63 second increase to response times through those same cuts,” he said. “This year, we’ve got increased traffic in the city and increased density and further dilution of those resources.”

But the city is no longer just fighting fires after they happen. Instead, city staff are recommending an increase in fire prevention officers.  The fewer fires that happen, the cheaper insurance rates are.

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Deputy City Manager John Livey said the city is making a “conscious effort” to focus on fire prevention.

“We get much more credit and things are safer by having fire prevention officers rather than some of these extra trucks,” he said.

Walsh said that the underwriter’s survey also called for an additional 10 trucks which would have brought another 210 firefighters. Only adding fire prevention officers, Walsh said, is “an inexpensive fix.”

And though the ad suggests councillors want to “cut millions,” in reality, the Toronto Fire Services budget is increasing by more than $9 million but most of that is to pay for increasing salaries.

WATCH: Damien Walsh, the Vice-President of the Toronto Professional Firefighters’ Association wants to raise awareness to proposed cuts

Toronto Fire Services wages have been increasing more than property taxes since 2011. In 2011, firefighters received a 3.19 per cent wage increase, while the property tax – which helps fund the wages – remained the same. In 2012, wages increased 2.15 per cent while property taxes increased 2.5 per cent. In 2013, both went up two per cent.

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Councillor Shelley Carroll believes increases above the rate of property tax increase is “unsustainable” and makes it harder for the fire services to grow.

“You know that in our current economy and you know that with the current administration we have here at city hall that you’re playing a bit off a game of what we call ‘bucks for bodies.’ Will there be the same number of members if you keep going for the higher raises,” she said. “It would be easier for us to accommodate the growth because when 100,000 new residents move to town, roughly the population of Kingston, you need another fire hall.”

“So needs come with new residents and if we’re going to grow, we can grow their membership but we’ve got to find a way to be able to afford it and what we’re paying in compensation is part of it.”

Carroll suggested that if fire fighters received wage increases on par with CUPE which gets a 1.75 per cent increase, growth would be easier for the city to fund.

Walsh however said his association is more concerned with service than pay.

Councillor Paula Fletcher however wants no cuts to fire services.

“For a little bit more money, you can pick up the phone, phone the fire department anytime, phone the police department anytime, phone EMS,” she said. “Think about what we have in the city of Toronto, amazing services, but somehow there’s this notion that we shouldn’t have to pay for any of them. That’s wrong.”

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“When you have a fire, and you pick up the phone, you want to make sure that truck is at your house as soon as possible.”

– With files from Jackson Proskow

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