Wheels on fire: Firefighters like bikes, promote safety

Photo by Lisa Logan of Toronto firefighters Dave Kurmey (left) and Matt MacCormack at Station 315.

Wheels on Fire

Firefighters like bikes, promote safety

Photos by Lisa Logan

Interview by Tammy Thorne, with behind-the-scenes shoot by Alex Chronopoulos

When dandyhorse magazine was shooting our fashion spread for our soon-to-be-released bike plan election issue, our Fluevog-shod model caught the eye of the firefighters across the street. When we found out that firefighters downtown often interact with cyclists in the line of duty, and that these firefighters were cyclists themselves, so we decided to check out the digs at Station 315 and ask 17-year veteran firefighter Dave Kurmey about the day in the life of a firefighter in Toronto.

Q: We know that firefighters put out fires, but what other emergency services do you provide?

Along with the firefighting we also respond to a large number of serious medical emergencies. Other things we respond to include such things as hazardous material incidents, high angle technical rope rescues at places like the bluffs, downed hydro wires, carbon monoxide calls, trench collapse rescues, and much more. Any time there is a serious citywide crisis such as this past winter's ice storm, last summer's flood, or a more personal crisis such as a serious bicycle collision, the Toronto Fire Service stands ready to respond and help.

Q: As first responders you must see a lot of bike collisions.

Unfortunately, we see far too many serious collisions involving cyclists. A greater awareness of cyclists by drivers of cars would certainly help make things safer. As well, cyclists should always do their utmost to be careful and obey the rules of the road. Part of this is being prepared for drivers who may not see the rider. One huge source of collisions is drivers who open their doors as cyclists are passing. Riders should watch for and be ready for car doors that might fling open.

Q: Tell us about your run-in with a bike thief here in Kensington Market and how you handled it?

As we explained in our statements to the police, [firefighter] Matt MacCormick, fire Captain Paul Brunton, and myself were sitting outside the fire hall when a member of the public said he saw someone cutting a lock off of a bike. We went to investigate, and would eventually end up making a citizen's arrest and detaining a suspect until the police arrived.

Q: Did you respond to the Duke’s cycle shop fire on Queen street? How did it compare to other big fires in the city you’ve responded to?

Firefighters from our fire hall and many other fire stations responded to the fire that destroyed Dukes. It was a devastating fire for many residents and businesses. While it wasn't the city's biggest fire, it was a terrible loss for many people and the community as a whole.

Q: What was the biggest or scariest fire you’ve responded to?

All fires are scary! Unlike what you see in the movies, most of the time in a fire there is zero visibility and very high levels of heat and deadly gasses. What compels us put ourselves in harm's way and go into a burning building is our duty to the citizens of the city and our team of firefighters.

Q: How do firefighters work with police and EMS? Both TPS and EMS have bike units – any chance we’ll see firefighters on bikes in the future?

Toronto Fire Services responds in a tiered response along with police and EMS to serious life-threatening emergencies. When we respond to a cyclist who has had a serious collision, our main concern is for potentially life-threatening injuries. Spinal injuries and head trauma are also at the top of our list of things to look for. If police are not already on scene, we do our best to secure the area and make it safe. This may involve such things as blocking the traffic with our fire truck so that the patient is shielded from oncoming traffic. When the ambulance arrives, (if they are not already there), we assist the paramedics with patient care. Both the police and EMS do an awesome job of working together with us as part of a cohesive team. Other agencies such as Hydro and Enbridge are also great at providing assistance when required.

As for seeing firefighters on bikes in Toronto in the near future, that is unlikely since bikes don't allow us to carry all of the equipment we might need. But hey, you never know what the future may hold.

Q: Do you ride a bike in your own time? Where do you like to ride?

Both Matt and I are bikers...although Matt way more so than myself. Matt lives in the city and can often be spotted around town on his bike. As for myself, I live in Barrie and like to get down to the beautiful waterfront area whenever possible.

Q: How is biking important to your physical well-being? How do firefighters stay fit? Do you have a gym in the station?

Biking is one component of a healthy lifestyle for many of us at Toronto Fire Services. Many firefighters stay fit by working out at the fire hall, between calls and our other duties. Other firefighters, like myself, like to work out at the local gym on our days off.

We are very fortunate to have good fitness equipment at our fire station. Some of the equipment was donated to us, with the remainder being purchased with our own money. The stationary bike is always a high demand piece of equipment!

Along with staying active, we chip in money for our meals and try to cook healthy.

Q: What’s it like working in one of the oldest fire stations in the city?

The College Street fire station is a great place to work. In our running area we protect Little Italy, Chinatown, Kensington Market, University of Toronto, and most of the the downtown hospitals. All of the people who work at Fire Station 315 are truly dedicated to protecting life, property and the environment, and enjoy the busy pace and variety of calls in the downtown core.

Q: Why did you become a firefighter?

I think that like most of my co-workers, I became a firefighter first and foremost to help people in their time of need. And, like most of my colleagues, I crave the adrenaline of emergency situations. No two days are alike, and at some point during the shift it is guaranteed to be very exciting. (Sometimes almost too exciting!) It is also infinitely rewarding to help make the worst day of someone's life a little bit better. And at the risk of sounding overdramatic, sometimes we have to stare death in the face to do that. Living to tell about it makes you feel very alive, and connected to humanity.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

The only other thing that I'd like to add, is that while we would like to see everyone who can, get out and get active and healthy, we also want to see you do it safely.

And remember, as always, working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors do save lives!

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Behind the scenes of our GOOD HABITS fashion shoot

Behind the scenes with the firefighters from THIS SHOOT and photographer Lisa Logan

NEW: dandyhorse wins a media award from the TPFFA

Bike Spotting on Queen West at dutil denim

Other Cities’ bike plans: Copenhagen, London, Washington

Lock 'n' Roll: Safety is sexy (Fashion shoot from summer 2013 with firefighter in training, Patricia Youn.)

Heels on Wheels from issue one shot in the rubble of the Queen West fire

Behind Bars (dandyARCHIVE: Ride along with Toronto's bike cops)



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