New fire chief Matthew Pegg says rescuing a little girl changed his life

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New fire chief Matthew Pegg says rescuing a little girl changed his life

Matthew Pegg, newly named as Toronto fire chief, sat down with Matt Galloway on CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Tuesday to discuss how he got his start in firefighting, a moment that made all the difference and how Toronto Fire Services is able to be ready for any emergency at any time. Pegg served as interim chief for nearly a year.

Questions and answers have been edited and condensed. 

Matt Galloway: Did you always want to be a firefighter?

Matthew Pegg: I didn't, actually. I grew up in a small town on a farm, and when you grow up on a farm, I think you just naturally want to be a farmer. I started my career in the fire service as a volunteer in the town of Keswick in Georgina and that really ignited a passion in me that resulted in me going from Georgina to Ajax to Brampton and then into Toronto in 2013.

MG: Why did you want to do this job?

MP: I was always struck by the ability to help people when they need it the most and the ability to do something that actually makes a difference. As I got to experience that first as a volunteer firefighter and then later as a career firefighter and progressing through the ranks, the opportunity to interact with people and just to connect with people on a level that some of us don't ever get a chance to see.

MG: Give me an example of that, a moment in your career when you've been out in the field and you've thought, this is why I'm doing this.

MP: As a young firefighter in 1992, I was involved in the rescue of a small child from a home in Keswick. I actually rescued her from her bed. We worked on her, and the paramedic crews and doctors did everything they could do for her, but unfortunately, she succumbed to her injuries three days later. That profoundly affected me. Prior to that incident, this job was a bit of an adrenaline rush. I had a very different viewpoint on what this career is and what emergency services meant after that incident. It fundamentally changed the way that I view it, and that's something that 25 years later I still carry.

MG: Now to the story of the woman on the crane. How did she get up there?

MP: I have no idea. We're so fortunate in Toronto to have the coordination and the expertise between all of our emergency response agencies. The fact that on those type of incident scenes, we know what our jobs are and we know what unique functions are. I'm human, I'm interested in the story as much as the next person, and I'd love to know and I'm sure at some point we might find out. That goes over to our colleagues at Toronto police and I know it's their responsibility to do that investigation into the circumstances. I'm sure at the point when that's done we'll get some clarity.

MG: You would never expect that the call is going to come in at 4 o'clock in the morning that a woman is stuck on a crane - how do you, as a service, go from one thing to another?

MP: I think that's what makes my job exciting and what makes the whole emergency services and fire services aspect exciting for me. We don't have the luxury of not being prepared. When you go back to [the fire at] Yonge and St. Clair, that's the single largest deployment of Toronto fire services resources to a single incident since amalgamation. It went to six alarms. We had nearly half of our available resources there. But we, as an organization, have implemented some really effective things like dynamic staging, which is a tool that pre-positions our apparatus around the city, so we are constantly maintaining the highest level of service coverage we can city-wide.

MG: How much more difficult is that now that we are a vertical city?

MP: The vertical challenge in Toronto is very real. As we continue to grow and as time moves on and we continue to densify, our challenges are going to increase. One of the things that makes Toronto unique is we really have three different landscapes at the same time. We have this whole population that at any given time in a 24-hour clock are underground, and then we have a whole population at street level, and then we have more people vertical than any other city in the country. Our job is to serve all three. Vertical is a challenge. The crane rescue really gave us the opportunity to highlight and explain the capacity and the expertise that our women and men have. I'm so proud of the work they do every day, and to be able to show and exemplify that kind of high-angle technical rescue service is spectacular.