Neighbours of High Park June Issue

Neighbours of High Park June Issue Meet the Firefighters of Station 423

written by Cassandra Irving • photos by Chris Cabral

Captain Greg Schultz and Acting Chief Andrew Galica stand on the stairway leading up the back hall of Fire Station 423 in the Junction. The stairway contains citations for significant events in High Park’s history, many of which involved the station’s fire fighters. In fact, of the 42 King George Medals of Bravery awarded in Canada, two were presented to fire fighters in the Junction. “The Junction fire station has been protecting the area since 1888; it has been a part of significant historical events since the founding of the city,” says Greg, who has spent many years studying the history of both the Junction station as well as the history of firefighting in general (“Did you know Joan of Arc, George Washington, Ben Franklin and Daniel Boone were all firefighters?” Greg asks, eyebrows peeked with interest).

“Captain Greg Schultz has a passion for the history of Toronto Fire Services and his enthusiasm to share the history of Station 423 is enjoyed by all those who visit the station,” says Councillor Sarah Doucette. Councillor Doucette said she is proud of the “exemplary leadership and strong commitment to our community” of all the fire captains at the three active fire stations in Ward 13.
As one of 16 captains on four different shifts that serve the surrounding community, Greg says that he truly enjoys working in the neighbourhood. “High park is an historic neighbourhood with great old buildings, tree-lined streets, and a diverse group of people. And it has the best park in the city!”Greg is currently in charge of Aerial 423’s B shift and says that one of his career highlights was participating in the playground rebuild after it was burned down by an arsonist a few years ago. He said it was amazing to “experience the community outpouring of support.”

Andrew says what he enjoys most is the variety of calls they receive. “There is commercial, industrial, high-rise and residential here. We also respond to calls from the Gardiner Expressway.” Captain Mike Waller, who has been on the force for 26 years, and firefighter Josh Alexander say the fact that it is a multi-cultural and multi-lingual area keeps the job interesting. Both have taken turns serving on the Rapid Intervention Team which helps trapped firefighters who find themselves in need of rescue. Also serving the Junction station, as well as other stations in the city, are Toronto Fire Investigators Karen Borne and Sarah Jessop. “Karen’s work has influenced Canadian Health and Safety law,” says Greg, referring to a case involving a rooming house owner and fire fatalities. “Her input helped increased the standards of fire safety.” Some at Station 423 have come to firefighting later in life, while others, like Greg, have had a love for the profession since he was a kid.
“I lived in a small town on a street that had a volunteer fire station at the end of it. Once or twice a week, the siren would sound and local fire fighters would head to the station to deal with whatever emergency was going on–building fire, car accident or grass fire,” remembers Greg. By the time he was 10, he says he was asking the fire chief questions about firefighting that the chief had to consult the training book to answer.
“The firefighters were always a part of the big community events, including the Christmas parade and fire safety week. They were the back ground that made a lot of things possible,” says Greg. When the Christmas parade went through town, Greg said he was only focused on one thing–the firetruck. “I was more interested in the fire truck at the end of the parade than seeing Santa Claus!”

By the time he was 12, Greg had built an impressive collection of firefighting items and when the time came to choose a career, there was only one thing he wanted to do. Now, he is the one on the fire truck helping the local community, along with Andrew, Josh, Mike and others.
“This profession comes with a high level of job satisfaction. Every day brings fun encounters along with solving people’s problems and emergencies,” says Greg.  Fellow firefighter Tim Green says there are other benefits to the job. “I like the family time; my kids are 24 and 23 and I never missed anything.” The station’s other fire fighters agree that the time in between shifts allows them to do several things, like volunteer work. In fact, more than 80 Toronto firefighters have received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal for volunteer activities for the betterment of Canada. The schedule also allows them to pursue other interests and hobbies, like Acting Captain Bill Reid who enjoys photographing rock stars in his spare time. As for the job itself, the firefighters at Station 423 say that doing positive things in the community makes the work fun.

“Councillor Doucette invites us to attend many community events every year. This is a good way to connect with the neighbourhood,” says Greg.
The firefighters at Station 423 encourage residents to visit the station and see the History of Fire in the Junction display. “We are open daily by chance or appointment, though fires and emergencies take priority,” says Greg good naturedly. They also want to encourage residents to check Smoke and Carbon Monoxide alarms regularly.  “We respond to a lot of fires and Carbon Monoxide emergencies in this neighbourhood.
Planning and safety equipment is something people underestimate. Install extra ones. Have a fire escape plan. Practice it! Service your furnace and water heaters. Clean your chimney. Know how to use a fire extinguisher before you need to use it because you don’t have time to read the instruction when you are having a fire!” The next time you are in the Junction, stop in at Station 423, bring your copy of Neighbours of High Park, say hello and ask to see Captain Bill’s photos of local rock stars!

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