Growing Pains: Exploring the implications of Urban Vertical Growth on Emergency Fire Service delivery in Toronto, Ontario
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High-rises have become second nature in today’s urban landscape, and Toronto is no exception. With defined geographical borders, the only place for new growth is up. While the growth is supported by Toronto’s Official Plan (2015), the shift to vertical growth has created issues for emergency services. One of these issues is in changes to response times because once firefighters arrive at the building; they must travel vertically to the site of the incident with all the equipment needed to respond to the emergency. This report examines how urban planners can help mitigate the risks posed by the Toronto Fire Services’ vertical growth challenge in the City of Toronto through the examination of three questions; (1) How is the delivery of emergency services by Toronto Fire Services (TFS) affected by vertical growth in Toronto?, (2) To what extent is there a difference between the provision of Fire Services in single detached homes (low density) and high-rise developments?, and (3) What planning solutions can be implemented to help Toronto Fire Services to continue to provide the public with the best service possible? This research utilized a mixed method approach examining case studies of other cities to examine potential planning solutions, Geographic Information Systems analysis to examine the impact of high-rises on the travel times of Fire Service apparatus’ using the NFPA standard four minute travel time, and an estimated vertical response time of two minutes, and interviews and focus groups with City of Toronto personnel to assess how the delivery of services has been impacted by vertical growth. Case study analysis revealed a number of lessons that the City of Toronto and TFS may consider. These include interdivisional collaboration amongst Toronto’s many divisions, and the inclusion of Fire Service in major planning documents (something not found in Toronto). GIS analysis found that with the current standard all residences can be reached within the four minutes. However, when the vertical element is accounted for a significant difference appears for high-rise buildings outside of the downtown core as the traditional suburbs of Toronto turn to densification in the form of high-rises while relying on stations placed for low density. Interview discussions found that many of the issues facing TFS are not a result of the physical high-rise structures themselves, but the ancillary impacts of the buildings, namely the number of people who have occupied them and spill out into the street network on a daily basis as well as a lack of proactive conversations surrounding developments and construction, and the narrowing of streets to make way for multi-modal transportation for those now populating the city. Based on the focus group and interviews a series of conversations were identified as necessary to mitigate the impacts of vertical growth, some of which have already begun. These include conversations around resource allocation, communication with the public, City, and Province, and systemic change to how residents view high-rise buildings, and the cost of densification. This report presents five recommendations for Planners to consider in their own work to mitigate the vertical challenge for Fire Services.