From the Editor: April 2017

Fire at the centre of the universe
Laura King
March 22, 2017
Written by
Remember when Toronto mayor Mel Lastman called in the army to shovel snow and the whole country guffawed?


Effectively and efficiently moving snow in Toronto is akin to pinning Jello to the wall – darned near impossible. The volume of traffic, the narrow streets, the millions of people, commuter trains, street cars, the lack of parking . . . myriad factors that few other municipalities must consider. Snow falls, chaos ensues.

Similarly, fighting a fire in downtown Toronto, on a weekday, in February, at the busiest intersection in the country, is an event firefighters in few other Canadian municipalities can fathom.

That the Feb. 14 blaze at the Badminton and Racquet Club of Toronto was contained to the building of origin is remarkable and a testament to the training and skill of the women and men of Toronto Fire Services.

Three division commanders – Dan MacIsaac, Andy Kostiuk and Len Stadler – ran the operation. More than 120 firefighters responded to the six-alarm call. Emergency vehicle technicians were on scene for the duration of the fire fight helping to maintain the dozens of apparatuses at the corner of Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue.

Thousands of residents were evacuated from adjacent condo buildings; lawyers and investment bankers working in corporate skyscrapers abandoned their offices.

Buses, street cars, the subway, and roads were shut down.

The power was out. Millions of litres of water poured into basement parking garages – vehicles were floating – and shorted the hydro vaults.

Pedestrians were redirected; observers were given face masks to prevent them from inhaling the swirling, acrid smoke.

Thanks to quick thinking by incident commanders, firefighters commandeered condo balconies, hooked up to standpipes, and sprayed water into the burning racquet club. Residents sent letters of thanks for saving the condos and commending firefighters for removing their boots
before hauling their hoses through the units.

Remarkably, firefighters saved the newer part of the club; they retrieved paintings and other treasured items, and patrons’ wallets and cell phones from lockers.

The fire burned for more than 15 hours. First-in firefighters from station 311 responded at 9:35 a.m., not long after starting their 24-hour shift; they returned to the hall at 5 p.m. to change into dry gear, went back to the scene, were rotated out at midnight, and responded to other calls until 7 a.m..

The incident, said acting Chief Matt Pegg, was the largest deployment of TFS resources he has witnessed.

Property was destroyed – between $10 million and $15 million worth – but there were no injuries or loss of life. And what was saved – thousands of offices, condos and apartments, infrastructure and business continuity – far exceeds the damage.

The incident, Pegg said, was demanding, dangerous and complex.

Toronto’s firefighters are better resourced than most – for good reason.

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