Detroit Fire Department ran out of rigs to respond to emergencies; 3 firefighters injured

Archive photo by Steve Neavling.
Archive photo by Steve Neavling.

It was a frigid, frustrating and overwhelming 14 hours for Detroit’s exhausted firefighters.

Between 2 p.m. and 4 a.m. Tuesday morning, three firefighters were injured, the city didn’t have enough rigs to respond to fires and wind knocked down hundreds of power lines.

The culprit – an ill-equipped fire department and strong winds that howled into the early morning.

During the 14-hour period, the understaffed fire department responded to more than 200 calls for fires, people trapped in cars and downed trees and power lines.

The department was so overwhelmed that some downed power lines sparked for up to 45 minutes before available fire rigs were available. Shortly before 4 p.m., firefighters were unable to save a burning house on the 14000 block of Ohio because there were no extra fire engines available. At about the same time, a fire engine malfunctioned at the scene of a commercial building fire at Alfred and Orleans.

Making matters worse, Engine #29 was stuck inside its quarters because the power went down, and most fire stations don’t have backup generators at a time when they are most needed.

More than a dozen fire engines were tied up babysitting downed power lines to keep the live wires from harming residents. In some cases, firefighters babysat downed lines for more than eight hours because DTE Energy was backed up.

Two firefighters narrowly escaped serious injury when a utility pole struck one of them and trapped the other in his rig at Springwells and Olivet at 11:33 p.m. Another firefighter was injured at a garage fire on St. Lawrence.

During the 14-hour period, 10 houses were on fire, which is about average. Firefighters also rescued people from three cars that were charged with electricity from downed power lines.

Fires in Detroit are burning longer and causing more damage because of an aging fleet of rigs that routinely break down or malfunction.

The Fire Department plans to have new fire engines next year, but long-needed replacements for the ladder trucks and squads will hold off until the city has money.

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.