Acting Toronto fire chief opposed to Scarborough Bluffs rescue fee

People rescued on the Scarborough Bluffs shouldn’t have to pay the cost of that rescue, Toronto’s acting fire chief says.

Bluffs “misadventures,” drawing large numbers of firefighters to Scarborough’s waterfront, are such a perennial problem, city officials were asked last year for new measures to stop them.

One possible deterrent was to stick people who get stuck climbing the sandy Bluffs with a bill.

But Toronto Fire Services Acting Chief Jim Jessop told the city’s Economic and Community Development Committee on Wednesday, Oct. 14, recovering costs for rescues is not in interests of public safety.

The department, Jessop stated in a report, believes charging rescue costs “would impact the public's view and trust in emergency services and may result in individuals hesitating to call for assistance.”

Those costs, considering 24 firefighters are typically dispatched to a Bluffs rescue, is likely to be “significant, highly disputed and therefore, difficult to collect,” Jessop added.

Thanks to selfie-seeking teens, children and adults chasing their dogs, rescue calls from the Bluffs happen at least a dozen times a year.

“It’s quite varied, the number of people who get stuck there,” said Toronto Fire spokesperson Stephan Powell, a district chief, said Thursday, adding people, more often than not, call 911 after climbing up the bluffs rather than down.

“Any one of these incidents could end up being a tragedy.”

As the area attracts more visitors, people have been seen climbing down from Scarborough Bluffs Park (now Scarboro Crescent Park) in Cliffside to reach the beach at Bluffer’s Park.

In 2019, the committee heard, the city’s parks department posted new signage which "clearly reinforces the dangers of the Bluffs,” and staff try to educate people they meet about the risks of venturing beyond fences to reach cliff edges.

But though more and better fencing could stop some misadventures, changes “would need to be balanced against any potential negative impacts to the Bluffs fragile ecosystem and the unobstructed views enjoyed by both the local residents and visitors,” the report says.

A bylaw which prohibits the public from going into restricted park areas had its corresponding set fine increased this year from $205 to $750. Staff didn’t think that needed to change.

The committee did support a motion by Scarborough North Coun. Cynthia Lai which recommended warning signs in Chinese on the Bluffs. “In order to ensure they are enjoyed safely, it is important that messages be shared in languages that reflect the community,” Lai said.

On Thursday, Paul Ainslie, another Scarborough councillor, said he would prefer people "who willingly ignore" signs on top of the Bluffs be rescued on a cost recovery basis, but understands more measures have been put in place to prevent such incidents.

Ainslie said he will ask staff to report back within a year on how many people have been rescued off the Bluffs, and what costs the city's emergency services have incurred.

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