SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
PUBLISHED DECEMBER 24, 2007
UPDATED APRIL 26, 2018
They adorn ladder trucks, firehouse fatigues, T-shirts and baseball caps, and together weave a historical tapestry of the Toronto Fire Services, an institution with roots more than a century old in some neighbourhoods.
Firehouse crests, seals of pride identifying individual stations, have become a staple of local fire halls since fire and union officials encouraged their creation three years ago as a way to build morale in the wake of the city’s amalgamation.
But public display of firehouse crests has become a hot potato for the services since firefighters at Station 423 in the Junction were ordered to remove their crest from the exterior of their building a few weeks ago.
Residents have written letters to Fire Services in protest, and the move has sparked fears that the one-of-a-kind emblems could be wiped clean from firehouse exteriors elsewhere in the city.
“It spoke to people in the community,” Abby Bushby, a Junction resident who wrote the fire chief about the matter. “It says, ‘Look, there’s our history.’ It’s the kind of thing that makes Toronto a better place.”
About a third of Toronto’s 82 fire stations have adopted insignias.
The firefighters of Station 426 are the Pride of Parkdale, represented by a hose-lugging Popeye. A cigar-chomping Cabbage Patch Kid look-alike is the face of Station 325 in Cabbagetown. There is the Uptown Yonge Street Express of Station 114, the Midtown Mob of Station 342, and the Knights of Balmoral of Station 311.
The Station 423 crest, a fiery phoenix rising from a blazing Toronto skyline, is a tribute to the Great Fire of 1904. A bull abutting an antique train engine in the foreground represent the old stockyards and railroad tracks of the area.
Like those of other firehouses, the crest was approved by Fire Services for internal use. But posting it on the Keele Avenue station, as city spokesman Brad Ross explained, violates city policy. Only the City of Toronto logo and the marker for the government agency occupying a building can be displayed on its exterior, he said.
“We have a corporate identity program, and the City of Toronto’s corporate image is an important asset to the public,” Mr. Ross said.
“They need to be able to identify clearly and quickly that a building is a fire station, or a community centre, or a hostel, or whatever the case may be. There cannot be any confusion.”
Mr. Ross said the policy applies to city-owned vehicles, including fire trucks, where many stations display decals of their crests. But, he said, applying the policy to fire trucks is up to the discretion of the fire chief because “it’s fairly easy to identify a fire truck.”
Councillor Bill Saundercook, whose ward includes the Junction, acknowledged receiving complaints from a small number of constituents about the crest’s removal. But he said projecting an image of uniformity, when it comes to city services, should trump individual pride.
“There needs to be a common message,” said Mr. Saundercook, who championed a new city logo at the dawn of amalgamation.
Despite complying with a directive from the fire chief to remove the crest, firefighters at Station 423 are pressing for a compromise. Many of them regard the city’s rationale as doublespeak to explain away an issue for which there is no clear policy.
“My impression is the city, through all its departments, the right hand isn’t talking to the left hand, where fire services is just trying to build morale and community,” said 423 Firefighter Curtis Janes. “Firefighters traditionally step over the line, it’s in our nature.”
Fire services spokesman Stephan Powell described the issue as “contentious” and declined to discuss the matter other than to say “the issue of signage is closed.”
Crests have long defined firehouses in big American cities like New York and Chicago. A recent departmental review of New York firehouse crests revealed they not only fostered goodwill in their communities, but gave firefighters a shot of individuality in a culture of uniformity.
In Toronto, a wild boar in bunker gear represents Station 121 in Hogg’s Hollow and a Trojan warrior helmet symbolizes Station 323 in Greektown.
There are crests with slogans like, “Running the Strip” for Station 314 near the corner of Yonge and Grosvenor Streets, and “The Show Must Go On” for Station 332 in the entertainment district.
“It gives you a self-identification and pride in your station,” said Bill Cooney, an acting captain at 332 on Adelaide Street, whose crest depicts the masks of tragedy and comedy engulfed in flames behind a giant No. 1, the station’s number before amalgamation.
The crests are worn on the left sleeve of firehouse fatigues, opposite the official patch of the Fire Services. Wearing the crests is optional.
Scott Marks, president of the Toronto Professional Firefighters’ Association, said he asked Chief Stewart this month to explore developing a policy on the issue and is hopeful an agreement will be reached. He added that he expects “only a handful” of stations have interest in displaying their crests outdoors.
“These firefighters know every little nook and cranny in their district,” Mr. Marks said. “They know the people who live there, the street people, and with that, there’s a real sense of community. They want a way to recognize that.”
Reposted without permission as this article does a bang up job of showing the strength behind a symbol that joins brothers in a hall.