With Fire Service delivery levels worse than the provincial average, Hamilton is redistributing scarce fire fighting resources from the old city to sparser suburban communities.
By Greg Galante
Published August 14, 2012
On January 11, 2011 my home suffered a devastating fire while I was in Toronto at work. (The irony of this has not been lost on me as a professional firefighter).
The Hamilton Fire Department responded and did what I consider to be in my professional opinion an outstanding job of preventing the total loss of my home. The first in responding units were from Station 6 at Wentworth and Barton Streets about 4 blocks from my home. Station 6 is one of the busiest fire stations in Hamilton.
At that time, the station complement was Pumper 6 and Rescue 6: two trucks, usually staffed with seven or eight personnel. There is no question in my mind that my home was saved because these two apparatus were able to respond rapidly with enough staff to initiate operations without delay.
Fast forward to April 2012. I had been doing some contracting work in the neighborhood around the fire hall and began noticing that Rescue 6 was never present in the Station.
My curiosity being piqued, I made a point of stopping in to find out where it was. I was told that as of January 2012, Rescue 6 became Rescue 12 and was relocated to Station 12 in Stoney Creek on Hwy 8 near Gray's Rd.
Upon hearing this, I became very interested in understanding the rationale behind this move. I emailed my city councillor, Bernie Morelli, who immediately replied and had been unaware of the apparatus move.
Morelli forwarded my enquiry to Chief Rob Simonds, Hamilton's relatively new Fire Chief, who came from Saint John, New Brunswick. My enquiry included a request for a breakdown of call volume, types of calls and so on that each of these stations runs and how moving Rescue 6 to Stoney Creek could be justified.
Chief Simonds emailed me and explained that the relocation of Rescue 6 involved several factors, one of which was to better distribute Hamilton Fire's 3 Heavy Rescues across the city.
Great! Operationally this makes perfect sense. However, it did not explain not replacing Rescue 6 with another apparatus.
The second part of this explanation, however, begins to get vague and disturbingly full of administrative double-talk. Chief Simonds spoke of the need to cover some "operational gaps" in the coverage across the city and that by moving Rescue 6 to Station 12 this was alleviating some of these gaps.
In addition, the chief stated that Ward 3 is still adequately covered because the stations to the east and west have multiple apparatus. My Bovine Scatology detector was now in full alarm mode. So I did some more research.
In 2010, The Ontario Municipal CAO's Association did a Service Delivery Benchmarking Study [PDF] that covered all areas of municipal service delivery.
Hamilton Fire finished above the median in most of the categories (lower is better). What this means is that Hamilton Fire is having difficulty meeting recognized standards in areas of response time, property loss, fire deaths, staffing, and so on.
Moving Rescue 6 to Station 12 is not going to help improve any of these statistics. A breakdown of Ward 3 and Ward 10 statistically causes one to scratch their head even more.
|Ward||3 (Station 6)||10 (Stations 12, 15, 16)|
In addition, Ward 3 contains Hamilton General Hospital, which also has a helicopter landing platform on the roof. The Hamilton Rehabilitation Center, numerous high rise and high density low rise residential buildings. A port facility, heavy industrial sites along Burlington Street, numerous nursing homes, a high school, several elementary schools.
The brief analysis above also does not take into account that the age of the building stock in Ward 3 is decades older than Ward 10.
Many of the structures in Ward 3 are well over 100 years old. They frequently are built using wood frame balloon type construction, row housing with common attic space. Building proximity is also much closer as you can see: over 16,000 buildings in almost the same area of space as Ward 10 with 8,500 plus dwellings.
The socio-economic make up of Ward 3 is also incredibly diverse, with a large portion of its population disadvantaged and in need of emergency services on a more frequent basis than a relatively affluent suburban area.
The deadly 1997 Plastimet fire also happened in Ward 3.
Some light began to be shed on this issue over the course of this summer with several articles in the Hamilton Spectator highlighting Hamilton Fire Service's problem in getting its part-time fire fighters to respond to their pagers.
This is because the Hamilton Professional Firefighters local is cracking down on so-called "two hatters", or members that work as full-time firefighters in another municipality while "volunteering" or working part-time here. The union is doing this for a number of reasons.
Firstly, they want to protect the safety of their members and the community and the communities where the two hatters may work full-time (I would refer readers to Scott Marks' letter the editor of the Spec on July 9).
Secondly, they want to force municipalities to avoid trying to do Fire Service Delivery on the cheap, which is now clearly happening in Hamilton. The "operational gaps" Chief Simonds is referencing are because Hamilton Fire does not have enough firefighters to provide the required level of fire service delivery to a city of over 500,000 people.
We do not have "volunteer" or part-time police in Hamilton. There is a police auxiliary, but they do not respond to emergency calls and are not armed.
Hamilton's part-time firefighters are expected to perform every duty a full-time firefighter does. The benefit to the city is they don't have to pay benefits, salary, and so on commensurate with the job.
At first glance, this seems like a deal for the taxpayer. What it is really doing is playing Russian Roulette with the lives of citizens and their property, as well as the lives of Hamilton's Firefighters.
At the time of writing, Chief Simonds has stopped responding to my emails.