Presenting: Fire Station 227 – History, Heroism and Community Connections in the Beach

So Doug started working at the North York Fire Department in 1984. His dad foresaw the amalgamation that would happen between the five former cities and boroughs that used to make up Metropolitan Toronto, and this meant that Doug would have the chance to one day work right in his beloved neighbourhood, the Beach. As the acting chief at the Bermondsey and Eglinton Fire Hall, he was part of the east command. Doug knew that Fire Station 227 was highly touted, and that firefighters were lining up for years to get into this fire hall.

Then one day he got a phone call from his captain who said “How would you like to walk to work on Monday?” Doug replied “I’ll put on my running shoes and run to work”. The chief then said “Don’t forget to bring breakfast on Monday”. He has now been at Fire Station 227 for four years and loves it. On occasion he brings his children Nicky and Aimee here, and sometimes his neighbours and friends drop in to visit. Doug has a long waiting list of people wanting to come and see the fire tower.

One interesting side effect of being a firefighter in his own neighbourhood is that sometimes he gets called to help people that he knows. Just recently there was an emergency call involving one of Doug’s acquaintances. The man had had a heart attack, and Doug administered first aid and encouraged him to hang on. Unfortunately the man did not make it and passed away. Doug admits that these are strange experiences.

Exercise room on the third floor of Fire Station 227

Quite frequently Doug and his colleagues are down by the beach in their fire boots, doing rescues. The calls are varied and range from fires to water rescues and car accidents. But life as a firefighter is not all about life-threatening rescues. There is a very strong sense of camaraderie among the firefighters, and many of them are actively involved in sports. Doug himself is an avid hockey player and has been playing this sport since he was a child. His favourite hockey rink continues to be the outdoor rink at Kew Gardens, just 10 minutes away from his fire hall.

Together with the Balmy Beach Old Boys, a hockey team at the Balmy Beach Club, Doug has traveled to different hockey games in Europe and visited countries such as Switzerland, Austria and Germany. With the Toronto Buds, another hockey team, he toured England in 1992 and adds that hockey is his vehicle for travel and for building international friendships. He also is a member of the Toronto Firefighters Hockey League, he loves to keep active. Then Doug showed me a picture, featuring him as a young hockey player at age 16. Also featured in this photo is Lido Chilelli, founder of the Toronto Beaches International Jazz Festival.

Photo featuring Doug as a junior hockey player (assistant captain, front row, 2nd from right, Lido Chilelli is on the top right)

Doug has had a penchant for media and publicity for a long time. He was also featured in the North York Firefighters calendar, an experience which he describes as great fun and adds that he became a minor celebrity. Proceeds from the calendar were donated to the North York General Hospital. He chuckled and added that he met his wife in his underwear and fire boots at a dance show, and they fell instantly in love. His wife is a nurse at Toronto’s Sick Children’s Hospital, and he describes their relationship ’like peanut butter and jelly” – a firefighter and a nurse go together like two peas in a pod.

His love for his neighbourhood has become evident over the years. In 1989 he owned a store called “Beach Sports”. He felt the area needed a little boost, so together with some schoolmates and colleagues from the Fire Department he created the “Beach sweatshirt”, promoting the neighbourhood. The store did well until the GST (General Sales Tax) was introduced, and the group reluctantly had to let the store go, but Doug enjoyed the experience and has no regrets.

Fire hose hanging down to dry from the fire tower

After our initial conversation Doug was so kind as to take me on another tour of the building, this time of the upper floors. He showed me the dormitory where all the firefighters sleep and live during their 24 hour shifts. Another floor up is an exercise room, and Doug explained that today’s firefighters are all very fit because the department encourages them to stay in shape. Up we went into the fire tower, through a narrow set of stairs that opened up into a small room with a beautiful view all over Queen Street, with windows facing in all four directions. A great view of the downtown skyline and the lake unfolded in front of my eyes. I also peeked east over the Queen Street strip. Doug explained that as a kid he would go swimming to the outdoor pool at the foot of Woodbine Avenue, and he and his friends would always look at the fire tower of the fire station to see whether it was time already to go home.

From this small room we climbed up a vertical wooden ladder into the room that features the four clock faces and the mechanism that turns the hands of the clock. A central box in the middle of the room turns four rods, each of which is connected to a mechanism that turns the hands on the clock faces. I was tickled pink to be up here in the fire tower and get a real behind-the-scenes look at one of the true landmarks in the Beach, an experience that reminded me of my trip to the roof and to the bowels of the Royal York Hotel.

Doug Browne in the fire tower, in front of one of the historic clock faces

After enjoying a beautiful view of the city in all directions Doug and I climbed down again and I was ready to head out for lunch. My stomach was growling and I was planning to check out Akida Restaurant right across the street, a Japanese seafood house where I was planning to have a well-deserved lunch.

Doug had been an extremely gracious host who made me feel completely welcome and comfortable during my behind-the-scenes visit of Fire Station 227. As we concluded the interview he added that he is proud to be serving the community that he grew up in and added that the Beach is a very special neighbourhood. Every time he turns the corner at Woodbine and Queen he feels that he is coming home.

Doug sums it up with one statement: “Once a Beacher, always a Beacher”.

Time for lunch, at the Akida Restaurant

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