When the Sunrise Propane explosion rocked the city last summer, it was more than nine minutes before the first Toronto Fire Services pumper truck made it to the blast site, just over two kilometres from the station house.

On Caledonia Road in the winter of 2008, firefighters arrived late, after police and ambulance, 10 minutes or more after a neighbour called 9-1-1. A father and two children died in the blaze. The North American standard for urban firefighting states it should take six minutes or less from emergency call for the first pumper to arrive at a fire.

Toronto’s problem, a Torstar News Service investigation found, is the antiquated, poorly run Toronto Fire Services dispatch system that sometimes wastes precious minutes after a call comes in. The computer system requires dispatchers to take too many steps to process calls: To manage resources dispatchers must rely on a magnetic board with round fridge magnets representing fire trucks.

Fire Chief Bill Stewart and communications division chief Vera Maute said the fire service does a good job handling more than 142,000 calls a year. They said a consultant’s review into improving “efficiencies” of the dispatch system is underway, with a report expected this fall.

In the investigation of the dispatch system, records showed that, in most cases, the time it takes Toronto Fire Services to process an emergency call and get firefighters to the scene is at least a minute longer than the six-minute standard. And that number doesn’t account for when the 9-1-1 call was placed.

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