North Etobicoke firefighters played Santa to the Sidhu family this week after a fire ravaged their home on Christmas morning, destroying all of their possessions – including all of the children’s presents.
Jasmine, 8, and Anvir, 6, excitedly pulled soccer balls and basketballs, toy cars and trucks, stuffed animals and Barbie dolls out of the plastic sacs presented to them by the firefighters of Toronto Fire Station 413 on Thursday morning, as their tearful parents Sukhwinder and Shyam Sidhu looked on.
The gifts, said Jasmine, made her “happy”.
“Under our Christmas tree, the presents were all black and burned,” she said of the Dec. 25 fire’s aftermath at her Farr Avenue home.
Ed Kennedy, president of the Toronto Professional Fire Fighters’ Association, said giving back to families in need is part of the fire department’s mandate.
“When families go through a tragedy such as what this family went through on Christmas Day, we Toronto firefighters not only assist them in their time of emergency, but through fundraising we also try to assist them with a small contribution to help them out,” Kennedy said as he presented the Sidhus with a cheque for $500 and their kids with the sacs full of toys.
Early Christmas morning, Sukhwinder and Shyam were sleeping in their bungalow they’ve shared with their two young children for three years when they awoke to the sound of their smoke alarms going off at around 6:30 a.m.
Smoke and flames quickly filled the home, and the pair, along with two family friends who were sleeping in the basement, were able to safely escape the blaze and call for help. The children, who had stayed over at their grandparents’ home that night, would only learn of the blaze – and all their lost toys – later that day.
Within four minutes of receiving the emergency call, the first pumper truck from Station 413 was on the scene and battling the two-alarm blaze, said Capt. Mike Strapko.
“When firefighters arrived, there was smoke venting from the kitchen window – large amounts of smoke,” Strapko said of the fire at 35 Farr Ave., which caused an estimated $100,000 damage.
Twelve fire trucks and 45 firefighters were ultimately called in to battle the blaze, Strapko added, noting that the fire was “knocked down” quickly.
Despite the department’s quick response, Sukhwinder said most of the family’s possessions were destroyed. While the family awaits to hear back from their insurance company, they’ve been staying with family and continue to be grateful for the kindness of Toronto Fire Services, the Red Cross, and family and friends for keeping them clothed and well looked after.
“I feel like everyone is being so kind. We have nothing now, so they are giving us things...We are not a rich family; we both are working. We made this home over three years. Every month we try to save our money to put more things in the house. And now I feel like three years’ hard work is gone in half an hour. We are really upset,” Sukhwinder said, giving special thanks to firefighters for their continued support – especially for putting a smile back on her son’s face.
“The kids are so happy. My son loves cars and he had a whole basket full of them, but now it’s all (destroyed in the fire). That’s why he’s so excited to see the cars (from the firefighters). It’s really, really nice. Thank you so much to Toronto Fire (Services).”
Toronto Fire Station 413, located at 1549 Albion Rd., is one of five stations across the city slated to be hit by budget cuts this month – a situation, which, if not remedied, could cost lives in future situations such as the Sidhu family found themselves in on Christmas Day, said Kennedy.
“This truck, Pump 413 – which was the first to respond on that day – there is a plan, a recommendation at city council to pull this truck out of service, which will put the public at risk,” he said. “In our business, seconds count. Here, this family was lucky to get out just in time...but we need to be able get on scene quickly, and with this truck and the four others that are planned to be pulled out if the budget is approved...there will be an impact on public safety, there will be a delay in responses.”
Kennedy estimated that, if the budget cuts are passed, a 63-second delay in response times will result in the communities impacted.
That’s a figure Etobicoke North Councillor Vincent Crisanti said concerns him very much.
“I’m so grateful that no one (in the Sidhu family) got hurt. I agree that response times are critical and certainly this is going to be addressed at budget time,” he said. “We hope that we are able to save the trucks that we need to serve the high-density we have in this community...I’m concerned personally about the response times; I’m concerned about the lost truck and I’m doing everything I can in my power to be able to hopefully change that decision and find other ways of finding efficiencies and savings in Emergency Services.”