Monday, August 22, 2011

The Ant Speaks Again

Opinions are far more entertaining to blog about than boring old facts. Not that I don't value facts. I just don't have patience to track them down when there are labyrinths of opinionated rabbit trails to meander along.

After my rant about the Toronto kerfuffle, however, I felt a twinge of conscience about pulling 3, 4, and 8 minute response times out of the foggy information bank of my memory without thoroughly researching those numbers. For the record, I did do a little follow up digging, and confirmed that Toronto Fire's response time averages about 4.5 minutes, and less than 3 minutes in most downtown locations. Toronto EMS's average response time to high priority calls is about 7.5 minutes.

The problem with statistics, however, is that they aren't that simple. Just the response time issue has more complicating factors than a boreal swamp has mosquitoes. Different areas of the same city have different response times. Fire and EMS measure response times differently. Different priority calls are recorded separately. In a statistics war, each side pulls out the numbers most favourable to their argument. My head starts to spin, and I realize why I favour the rabbit trails of opinion.

During my quest for the Holy Grail of statistical truth, I stumbled into yet another cat fight: Fire vs EMS in Toronto. Click here and here for a couple articles that mix fact and opinion into a potentially explosive brew.

As the Fire Ant from Upsala, I'm not qualified to draw conclusions on this topic either, but since lack of qualifications hasn't stopped anyone else from opining, allow me to once again add my two cents. There seems to be a grudge that Fire has twice the budget of EMS, even though structural fire numbers have dropped dramatically. The grudge continues that Fire boosts its response stats with medical calls to justify keeping that budget. Critics say scrap Fire's medical responses, cut Fire's budget, and put the money into more ambulances, which are cheaper to buy and maintain.

Here's my opinion, uncluttered by the annoyance of facts and research. While structural fire numbers have decreased, they still do occur . . . and when they do occur, you need the same number of trucks and firefighters on the scene in the same amount of time if you want the same result. Sure, cut Fire's budget . . . but don't expect the same result. And if you decide you can't cut Fire's budget safely, then they should respond to medical calls . . . because there are fewer fires.

Hopefully there are people out there who, unlike me, are good at analyzing the facts, and are unbiased enough to accurately predict outcomes before flames lick at the taxpayers' heels.

Lethbridge, Alberta seems to have gained efficiency with their combined Fire and EMS. The Lethbridge model sees recruits trained as both firefighters and paramedics, giving them the ability to perform both functions at an emergency scene. Similar models are common in the States. Even an ant from Upsala knows it would be an operational nightmare to impose this on two well-established services that are steeped in separate cultures, but it sure seems to work in some places. Give them guns, and you'd have the most efficient combo since the invention of the copier/printer/scanner.

It helps, mind you, that Lethbridge has had nearly a hundred years to work out the bugs in their Fire/EMS system. In fact, it has the oldest dual role service in North America. You can read about it here and here.

Now that I have a headache from deep sea diving into other peoples' business with my toy snorkel and flippers, allow me to divert to other topics.

Paul Combs hit the fire hall humour nail on the proverbial head with his new cartoon at Fire Engineering. If you've never been assaulted by the Ghost of Incidents Past, don't try to figure it out.

Another Paul, my brother Paul Beebe, has his own method of de-stressing. He crawls through the wet, dewy forest on his belly with a camera to capture photos like this:

Once in a while Paul bumps into larger specimens, like this guy who was trying to climb a tree in his front yard.

Paul is a charter member of the Upsala Fire Department, and a knife maker by trade. He does photography on the side, and sometimes has a little too much fun.

You can see more of Paul's photography here and here.


  1. Alas, many bureaucrats have no time (or maybe capacity) for common sense, hence the inability to even consider, never mind conceive the idea of dual-training the firefighters!

  2. It would take vision, careful planning, and a large dose of persuasiveness to successfully implement a dual system in a place like Toronto where the two services are so thoroughly entrenched in their own cultures. Not impossible, perhaps, but you have to wonder if anyone is up to the challenge.


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