Chaotic night of fires: A death, broken down rigs, worn-down firefighters

The first fire broke out inside a house on Detroit’s west side at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Over the next two hours, the understaffed Fire Department responded to 10 fires in houses and a business. Firefighters also were called to the Fisher Freeway, where a truck overturned and spilled gas onto the road.

At 1 a.m., emergency responders tried to resuscitate a man overcome by smoke when a fire broke out in his living room on Auburn Street, near West Warren and Evergreen. He and his dog died.

Then came the real test. At about 5:30 a.m., a mammoth blaze tore through a commercial warehouse on the city’s west side near near I-75 and Springwells Street.

By the time the fire was extinguished Wednesday afternoon, at least five rigs broke down. Replacement ladder trucks malfunctioned at the scene. And the most effective rigs for big fires – ariel platform trucks – were all in the shop, unavailable and awaiting long-overdue repairs.

City officials are expected to make deeper cuts to the fire department in an attempt to ward off bankruptcy and the appointment of an emergency manager.

Firefighters fear the city is no longer equipped to handle big fires or busy nights.

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Steve Neavling is an investigative journalist and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Living on the city’s east side, Neavling explores corruption, civil liberties and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.    

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.