By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker
Detroit’s entire west side was one fire away from calamity early this morning.
Firefighters were already battling a two-house blaze in southwest Detroit when an arsonist set fire to three houses a few blocks from each other at about 1:35 a.m. in Brightmoor near Lyndon and West Outer Drive. Some firefighters couldn’t get extra help because there was no one left to respond on the west side.
On the other side of the city, two houses were engulfed in flames.
The bankrupt city has been flirting with disaster since then-Mayor Dave Bing laid off firefighters, closed seven fire stations and reduced spending on safety equipment and rig repairs.
“All it would have taken was one more fire (on the west side) and we would’ve been screwed,” a firefighter told me on condition of anonymity this morning. “Just imagine what a fire can do if you have no one to put it out. You can lose an entire block.”
The fires were at Proctor St. and Panama Ave., Outer Drive and Westbrook, Eaton and Bentler, Freeland and Lyndon, Lafayette and Woodmere, Westland and Charleston and East Davison and Justine.
The Motor City Muckraker has been examining the fire department over the past year, revealing poor leadership, an inadequately staffed department and firefighters who are forced to work without the proper safety equipment or trucks and engines.
Under Bing’s watch, firefighters’ wages were cut 10%, arsons were drastically underreported and seven fire stations were permanently closed as part of a $24-million reduction in the department’s budget. Most of those stations have since been broken into and stripped over scrap metal.
Mayor Mike Duggan replaced Bing’s fire commissioner, Don Austin, with Jonathan Jackson and said fire protection is a top priority.
Under the state intervention, Duggan controls the fire department, while Emergency Manager Keyvn Orr has authority over the police department.
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.