Detroit’s neighborhood cores are burning out.
Firefighters, working with 10% pay cuts, are getting older, fighting more blazes and forced to extinguish fires without proper safety equipment or certified aerial ladder trucks.
Detroiters have had enough. On Wednesday, demonstrators outside of a west-side fire station called for the resignation of Fire Commissioner Don Austin, saying he has done nothing to improve a fire crisis that is decimating neighborhoods, jacking up home insurance rates and claiming lives.
Since closing seven stations and laying off firefighters under pressure from Mayor Dave Bing last year, Austin has been unable to curtail decreasing response times. His administration also regularly closes down stations over night to save money, despite a flare up of fires from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
“These are extreme departures from standards of care and safety,” retired Detroit Deputy Chief Reginald Amos said. “The city needs a public plan rolled out today to reduce, suppress and investigate fires.”
The city averages 30 fires a day, about half of which are suspected arsons. The city has only enough arson investigators to review 20% of suspected fires.
“The older churches and schools don’t have sprinkler systems. Now fire trucks may be too far away to protect children,” Pastorof Detroit Dreams Center said. “The fire commissioner has a responsibility to protect us.”Protesters carried signs without words to represent a nameless public ignored by city leadership.
Austin told the Detroit News that he’s doing the best with what he has and won’t step down.
“I’m not stepping down. I can be fired, I can be sent away from here, but I’m not stepping down,” Austin said. “I’m here to do a job. It’s a difficult job, and a lot of people don’t understand what I’m trying to do.”
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.