muckraker report

Detroit firefighters lose control of blaze because six closest fire hydrants malfunctioned

By Steve Neavling

As flames spread through a house on the city’s east side Tuesday night, Detroit firefighters arrived within minutes and were in position to knock down the blaze.

Only one problem: The closest fire hydrant didn’t work. Nor did the second or third or fourth.

Firefighters scrambled for blocks before getting lucky on the seventh hydrant.

It didn’t matter. Nearly 45 minutes had passed, and the house at 17446 Arlington was gone.

The struggle to find a working fire hydrant is nothing new. Detroit’s aging hydrants often malfunction, and it’s difficult to fix them.

Combine that with Tuesday’s extreme temperatures, and water can become unavailable for blocks.

It’s a problem that is expected to worsen until the city has money to fix its aging infrastructure.

In the meantime, Mayor Dave Bing is expected to cut more from the cash-starved department to avoid bankruptcy.

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.

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  • Jeff

    The hydrants were checked every month and reported as out of service. The reason they were out of service is crime. The threads used to hook up the line to the engine were stolen and the stem on top to turn the hydrant on was stolen making the hydrant useless. Since they are made of brass, the scrappers stole them and got cash from the scrap yard. DFD checks the hydrants and reports the bad ones. Water Board is responsible for repair jobs. The residents of that area better make sure their insurance is paid. There are many “bad” hydrants in that section of town.

    • Steve Neavling

      Thanks for the insight. Really appreciate it.

  • DFD Dissapointed

    The Fire Dept. used to check the hydrants in thier districts daily. When the administration (Fire Comm. Don Austin & Dave Bing) closed all of the fire houses they had no plan to secure them or cover all of the hydrants in thier districts. It wasnt till the firefighters brought it to thier attention that they told us “don’t worry we’ll just have the water dept pick up your slack”. Well apparently as we knew would happen, hydrants are not getting checked and now freezing! This is a fire Commisioner that didn’t even know about freezing hydrants when he took the job. Go back to LA you hack!

    • NoMoreFlow

      $48 million to EMA (the “assessment” company hired to determine that DWSD should – and will – lay off 81% of its workforce) sure would have fixed a lot of fire hydrants.

  • Sarabi

    They keep putting them out because the house next door might not be vacant. At least they are now trying to avoid going into the vacant buildings, and they keep the focus on fighting the fire from the outside and keeping it from spreading to other dwellings while protecting the firefighters as well. However, any firefighter standing on the street in the city of Detroit is not safe in any way, shape or form anymore. When the residents that they have sworn to protect start throwing bricks at them while they are trying to do thier job, frankly I say they should walk away and let it burn. Sadly, the firefighters that I know feel such a deep sense of loyalty and responsibility to the city and it’s residents, even after the city and it’s residents have turned their backs on them, that they will most likely die protecting someone that couldn’t care less. My husband is one of them, and I only pray that one day he will decide to leave the city behind so our family can stop having to wonder if he’s coming home after work. Do you really think that they don’t request fire hydrant maintenance?? The firefighters beg to have the equiptment repaired and maintained, but it falls on deaf ears and yet they continue to risk their lives for the fools that deny them the basic necessities to do their job.

  • J

    Eric.. The reason that we keep fighting so many vacant dwelling fires is because people keep setting them on fire. If its on fire, we do everything in our power to put it out. Also the hydrants have recently become a target of scrapers. They have been stealing the brass threads, and stems. Making them completely useless.

    • bebow

      There is no law enforcement in the neighborhoods, and the criminal element is being very deliberately allowed to dominate the streets, killing, robbing, raping, trafficking narcotics, destroying property, and stealing. The strategy is to inflict such a high degree of misery upon residents of unselected neighborhoods that we will abandon our property to escape it and leave “voluntarily.” If many of us burn or die in the process, so what?

  • bebow

    Here is another taste of Detroit Works in action. There’s no service in the neighborhoods. It’s acceptable for us to burn and bleed to death so other Detroiters may prosper. (Cue the crickets.) Anyone who cannot see what’s happening in the unselected neighborhoods must be blind. This is a POGROM. There should be an investigation and criminal charges resulting from the actions, direct and indirect, taken against the unselected majority of Detroit residents.

  • Eric

    Was the house occupied? Why is DFD fighting so many fires in vacant buildings if they’re so time and cash strapped they can’t even maintain fire hydrants?

  • Lisa L. Howze

    We have to fix our broken infrastructure in the city of Detroit. One failure after the next is a demonstration of the failure of local and state leadership to address the ‘true emergencies’ that exist in the city of Detroit. You have to ask, what’s really in the restructuring plan!

    • Eric

      Residents asked for lighting to be fixed. Maybe they should’ve included routine fire hydrant maintenance, also.