Number of Ontario firefighters going up as actual fires drop: study

Beautiful photo of Toronto firefighters at the scene of an overnight blaze.
Sept. 27, 2013: Toronto firefighters battling a blaze in the city's west end after flames engulfed an industrial building. John Hanley for Global News

TORONTO – The number of firefighters in Ontario have gone up over a 16-year period despite a significant drop in the number of fires, according to a new study by the Fraser Institute.

The Vancouver-based public policy think-tank report titled “Municipal Fire Services in Canada: A Preliminary Analysis” indicates the number of reported fires in Ontario fell by 41.4 per cent while the number of firefighters increased by 36.3 per cent from 1997 to 2012.

“Firefighters play an important role in protecting our communities, but Ontario taxpayers are paying for more firefighters to fight fewer fires, raising important questions about local government spending on fire services,” said Charles Lammam, the study’s co-author in a media release.

The decline in fires is attributed to the changing role of firefighters who are increasingly dealing with non-fire call such as emergencies and motor vehicle accidents, according to the report.

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As an example, the study cited Toronto for having actual fires representing only 9.9 per cent of response calls in 2013.

The Fraser Institute report however is “unclear” why there’s a marked increase in the number of Ontario firefighters.

The Ontario Professional Fire Fighter’s Association (OPFFA) says the study’s claims are misleading and that the number of fires don’t accurately reflect the need of an emergency call.

“I think the services that we provide are invaluable and the average cost is less than a dollar and I think the citizens of Ontario are willing to pay the dollar a day to have the value of a firefighter,” said OPFFA President Carmen Santoro.

“42 per cent of our calls are medical calls because were strategically located throughout the city to respond. We’re typically the first emergency responders on the scene because of our location.”

The study also compared numbers across Canada but the analysis was limited due to the “dearth of available data” from other provinces.

It found that during the same 16-year period, the number of firefighters in Canada grew to 32,400 from 25,900 — a 25.1 per cent increase.

“But without comparative national fire data after 2002, it’s unclear whether Canada is experiencing an Ontario-style trend,” the report said.

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